We recently spent 94 minutes in front of a movie screen watching 127 hours, the riveting story of American mountain climber, Aron Ralston, whose ordeal gripped the nation in May 2003 when he was forced to cut off his arm (we averted our eyes here) in order to survive his adventure.
What’s striking about the movie is that, even knowing the predicament and the outcome in advance, it is, nevertheless, compelling, fascinating, mesmerizing.
And very real. And all too human. I think we all recognize that Aron Ralston could be any one of us (well, except for the fact that I hate hiking!).
When Mr. Ralston set out on his adventure to climb Blue John Mountain in Utah, he didn’t tell anyone where he was going. His mother called and he ignored her message. He lived a life isolated from others, pushing people away, avoiding intimacy.
When his arm gets stuck “between a rock and a hard place” (the title of his book and possibly the first time that expression was meant literally), he tries many different maneuvers in an effort to free himself – all without success. After a few days of fruitless attempts, the situation gets more desperate and he begins to reflect, “I’m such a big hero that I came out here and I didn’t tell anybody where I was going. Oops.”
We have a friend who works in the Canadian Rockies doing search and rescue. He told us that every time someone needs their assistance, it’s because they have done something foolish or reckless.
Ralston is beginning to recognize this, to acknowledge that his isolationism is not a healthy attitude – neither physically nor psychologically.
“All my life I’ve been heading for this rock. And this rock was made just for me.”
He continues, “All my life I’ve been heading for this rock. And this rock was made just for me.” Impressive insight under the circumstances. I think my only thoughts would be “Get me out of here!”
As the ordeal continues, Ralston becomes delirious. Death seems to be hovering. In a true act of desperation, he takes a knife, already dulled from repeated banging on the rock, and cuts off his arm.
He still needs to scale down the mountain and hike 16 miles…
But as he walks away from the scene, he looks back at the Blue John and says, “Thank you.”
We are given no further explanation but since the mountain endangered his life, rather than saving it, we must assume he means “thank you for the experience, for the wisdom gained, the lesson proffered."
In Psalms (118), we say: “I will thank You because You have answered me; it has been for me a salvation.” The word "answered" can also be translated “afflicted”. We thank the Almighty for the affliction because that was the opportunity that truly changed who we are, that (hopefully) made us better.
When we are in the midst of trials and tribulations, we are mostly in survival mode, just putting one foot in front of the other and trying to make it through.
But when they are over, if we can find a quiet moment, if we can reflect, perhaps we can discover there was something to learn, someway to deepen our understanding of ourselves and our potential. As long as we remain alert and receptive.
Aron Ralston endured an ordeal that seems incomprehensible to most of us. It took tremendous courage and determination and strength of will to escape the mountain trap. And given his weakened state, even after all that, his survival was nothing short of miraculous.
What a tragedy it would have been if all that trauma had been for naught. But Aron Ralston is a fortunate young man – not just because he survived, but because he recognized the lessons available for him to learn from this experience while he still had the time and ability to change.
Although he continues to climb mountains, he also works as a motivational speaker, doing the best possible thing we can do with our preciously bought wisdom – sharing it with others.
Married with a child, he no longer avoids intimacy and he never goes mountain climbing without telling someone where he is going.
I don’t know how he survived those 127 hours (the 2 hours spend watching the movie were enough of a harrowing ordeal for me) but I hope that I have also grown from his experience.