Today I am thankful for Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.
If you’ve been reading this blog relatively regularly you probably already know about my fixation with Mount Everest. I’ve known of this book for quite some time and finally picked up a copy at our local library fund raiser. I figured Dominic would love it, and he absolutely did. Kinda crazy, I read a book like this after my 10 year old son did.
I’m pretty sure we both took something different away from it, which is one of the reasons I am thankful for this story. He took it as a validation that through hard work and perseverance he, or anyone, has the capacity to climb 29,000+ feet into the sky where the oxygen is a third of what it is at sea level and the temperature is insanely low, the winds are insanely high, and the ability to persevere through to the goal has to be insane. Dominic took it as a reminder that dreams take work and dedication, and are ultimately achievable. How can you not be thankful for a book that shares that life lesson with your child? Dominic was more excited than ever to eventually conquer Everest.
My take was completely different and impacted me on levels that I was not expecting or ready for. I’m not going to lie, this book has left me partially shaken, the horrors that Jon and the team faced are absolutely haunting. That being said, there is also a huge uplift that comes in a few very odd forms, and the biggest lesson I learned from this book (which I’ll save for last, of course!).
Jon and his team went through extreme trauma and pain to accomplish their goal. Please read the book for more details if you’d like, I’d highly recommend it. To net it out they pushed through pain, agony, and in some cases death (look up Beck Weathers on Google if you want to see the craziest story). Jon and others hit their goal and reached the summit, but the storm that struck them on the way down completely shattered the feeling of success and accomplishment. The storm took the lives of several team members. The team tried to save some but had to make decisions impacting the lives of their friends – some were saved, some were not. After everything unfolds there is grief and in the words of one survivor their greatest dream became “the worst experience of my life.” How crazy is that? Your dream crushes you, physically, emotionally, and morally. It’s not supposed to work that way. Be careful what you dream I guess.
Another reason I’m thankful is the absolutely painful honesty in which Jon tells this story. The author was right there and was faced with many decisions he made that will haunt him forever. I’d like to say I can’t imagine the pain he faced in that ordeal, but he paints such a picture that I can almost begin to imagine the pain and guilt he must feel – even though he did nothing wrong (in my opinion). This made me thankful for several reasons, the greatest was for his openness in his feelings, decisions, and experiences. He easily could’ve brushed it off and made himself an accomplished hero who beat the angry mountain, but instead takes the role of someone openly and honestly reporting the tragedy. How can you not be grateful for that type of courage and honesty? He is acting as a role model for all of us to share our experiences with honesty so that others may understand and be spared future heartache.
So the biggest thing that I’m grateful for from the book is this quote from Thomas F. Hornbein:
There was loneliness, too, as the sun set, but only rarely now did doubts return. Then I felt sinkingly as if my whole life lay behind me. Once on the mountain I knew (or trusted) that this would give way to total absorption with the task at hand. But at times I wondered if I had not come a long way only to find that what was I really sought was something I had left behind.
How’s that for deep on a Friday night, huh? What a beautifully put truth of life. How often have I chased a new dream, a new this, or a new that, hoping to find what was missing only to find that once I have it, accomplish it, or complete it there is only more emptiness? As opposed to enjoying what I have and where I am there is a pull to dream for, and chase for, more. To be sure, there’s a delicate balance here. What’s the appropriate balance of chasing dreams to grow versus chasing dreams to fill an empty spot in my soul that nothing can fill but thought and appreciation for what I have and where I am? This story put that all into perspective by using a dream I have to share the folly of my thoughts some times. Does this mean I’ll stop dreaming big? Hell no! But it is a great reminder to be grateful for what I have and where I am… while continuing to dream of bigger and greater life.
All this from one simple story woven by a master story teller who shared the truthful testament of his dream chasing experience. There’s a lot to be thankful for from this book.