Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Burn the Maps

Jeff and I watched Touching the Void this weekend. It’s the retelling/documentary about a survival story. Two men…mountain climbing in the Andes I think. I can’t remember all the details. It’s just an absolutely unreal story of survival.

It’s worth checking out.

The thing that really struck me the most in the movie was this part where one of the men talked about how he was raised a devout Catholic and had long since stopped believing in God.

He said he had often wondered if, when he was about to die, or in some sort of dire situation, he would call out to God for help. If deep down, a tiny part of him still believed, and would reach out for that in the last few moments.

That was the situation he found himself in. He had broken his leg, been assumed dead by his climbing partner, been cut loose, and had fallen into a crevasse. He was totally alone; he had no plausible way of getting out or surviving more than a few days without food and water, and he was freezing to death.

He said during that time, it never once crossed his mind to call upon God. He said he knew then that he was a true atheist, one that believed that after death there was nothingness.


In order to fully understand what I’m saying here, you would have to see the movie, but for now you have to take my word for it that there were a thousand different times and ways this man could have died. Yet he was alive, years later, retelling his story for the audience.

He was alive.

And he attributed the entire thing to his own strength and determination.

I had an extremely hard time with this.

You break your leg
You’re hanging in this open space, thousands of feet in the air and your friend doesn’t know whether you’re dead or alive, he’s attached to you.
He decides that you must be dead and he cuts you loose…if he hadn’t you both would have died
You fall
Hundreds of feet
Breaking through and landing in a crevasse
You survive
There is no logical explanation for why you would survive a fall like that, but you open your eyes and continue
You realize that inches away from where you landed is a sharp drop off…had you not landed where you are you would be dead
You spend the night in the bitter cold and darkness
The walls are unclimbable and your leg is shattered
You decide to slowly lower yourself deeper into the crevasse, maybe there is a way out
You find an opening and as you lay on your stomach and try to drag your body along the snow toward the light, you realize it is a false floor and you could fall through at any moment to your death
You make it to the opening
You drag yourself out into the open air
All this time you have no food or water and the temperature is well below freezing
You still have miles upon miles to go before you reach base camp
You drag yourself slowly, setting goals to keep your mind focused
You stumble upon your friend’s footprints that will lead you safely through the maze of dangerous hidden crevasses
You survive snowstorms during the night
The footprints disappear yet you still manage to avoid the hidden crevasses
You find a source of water. Had you not, you would have died in a few hours time
Meanwhile your friend is urged by a fellow traveller that they need to leave the base camp…it’s not healthy for him to stay in this place, they need to leave and notify your parents that you are dead…if they are gone once you reach the camp, you will surely die…yet your friend is not ready to leave, he does not know why, but he insists they remain a bit longer
You reach the rocky part of the journey, where you navigate the rough terrain by hopping on your good leg and crashing into the ground again and again
That night you are close to death. Your mind starts to fail you, the first time this has happened your entire trip, and you are in and out of consciousness
You call out for your friend in the darkness
He hears you
He finds you
You survive

Of course I believe in free will. I believe there were a thousand different times that man could have chosen to give up, to lay there and die, and to drift off to “nothingness”.

But do not try and tell me that you were alone- that it was only due to your own strength and determination that you got to that base camp. How blind can a person be? How can you not see all the ways in which you were accompanied and protected by some higher power along your journey?

His inability to see the miracle of his survival left me speechless and shaken.

I have my own problems with the Catholic Church, which many of you already know.

And I fear that at times my issues with the Church as an institution have blinded me to the miracles of survival within my own journey.

I am so sorry for that.

I know I have been protected and guided.

It just took an atheist to remind me.


At 5:43 AM, Blogger Amy Boyd said...

I don't know your issues with the Catholic church? You'll have to tell me sometime. Everytime I go to a Catholic church I feel excluded, like I'm not part of the group. I'm not sure why that is? Maybe it's me, but I keep trying. I grew up Lutheran and there seems to be more sense of community or whatever the word is. I'm alternating between St Francis and Grace Lutheran. I had a great experience with Father Stencil while planning the wedding. He seems different to me? Anyway.. we'll be checking out the documentary. Have you heard people speak of McCain there, supposedly it's a household name there?

At 8:02 AM, Blogger Phil said...

Hey there! Sorry I haven't commented in a while, school is a constant bother. I really like this entry Mary. It's funny, there are times when people are obviously aided by who-knows-what in the way of a higher power, and they'll ignore it every time. But then there are times when the hands of this world are directly responsible, and they'll praise God for it everytime. Actually God gets blamed for those happenings more than praised. Ah well, you know of my issues with the Church...well maybe you don't know them, but you do know OF them at least, heh heh. I envy you and Jeff the time and talent you both have for your writing and the new and interesting experiences you both are having day in and day out. Well...I'm off to the library...yippee for spring break!

At 8:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes I worry that I am not getting the big picture in the difficult situations in my life. I think I am missing the message. It amazes me to think about what more it will take for God to get through to that man. I guess I dont feel as bad for not immediately understanding whatever messages I am supposed to learn from my life's challenges. At least God hasn't made me survive a fall off a cliff to learn anything yet.

At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Jay said...

Mary Kay,
Man, oh man, you and my mom should have a talk... She just did a workshop on religion and spirituality. There really is a difference. i think you realize the difference. The fact is, attending an institution each and every Sunday might not be for you, but God is! A few weeks ago, it was about 60 degrees - the warmest it has been since October. Eric and i were outside and i turned to him and said, "This is the day that the Lord has made for us - let us rejoice and be glad in it!" And even though i was quoting a song, i meant it... and when i looked at Eric, he nodded at me, smiled and turned his face up to the sun and hummed along as i sang it. It's too bad that the man in your story won't ever appreciate a day in that way...

At 3:45 PM, Anonymous aunt meem said...

ok and now it's time for the "Mom" Jay was talking about. Wow Emmie that was powerful!!! I wish u had been by my side when I gave my talk on "Faith and Religion- How are they different? How are they the same?" last week. Can you have faith without religion? can you have religion without faith? Trust me, this guy you speak of in the movie...if he hadn't found his faith by the end of the movie..He certainly has by now. You just don't go through something like that without coming out of it with faith. Faith gives us the ability to believe in our religion and to celebrate our religion. I am sad to hear Amy say she often feels exluded in the Catholic Church and she is not alone! This is something I hear often working for the Catholic Church. But, Emmie, your journey just on this trip I can tell is already giving you a deeper and fuller understanding of your faith. I hear it in your writing. Even when you write of simple things like the people on the street or your job experiences. He is all around us..it is just a matter of believing what we can't see and trusting. (Oh, I am so sorry...I just reread this and I didn't want to sound preachy and I do) but this is meant for you, Emmie and you know me and you love me anyway!!

Love, Aunt Meem

At 10:18 PM, Blogger KickinKangaroo said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:19 PM, Blogger KickinKangaroo said...

Your blog reminds me of a movie-don't know the name of the film or the actor that played in this particular scene. He was trapped in the ocean far out at sea no one for miles, no strength. He began to pray- crying out to God for help. "Please Lord if you save me I will go to church every day!" He found an inner strength and kept swimming. "Every day" he promised. Somehow he kept swimming. Soon he saw land and his strength regained itself once more-"I promise God, I will go to church... once a week! If I survive this! Once a week I swear to you." A few hundred strokes later he prayed "God I promise if I just make it to land I will go to church once a month! I promise." Upon feeling his feet on the sand he cried out "I promise you God I will go to church at least once a year! Thank you Lord."

So Human.

Religion vs. Spirituality
Very complicated.
Religion as a man made entity is in part a form of dicipline, community, and ritual. Created to unify belivers.The Catholic church has become one of the largest real estate owning networks in world.
The "Church" of the 21st century has become a sublet of small buisnesses. We as humans have created this reality. Has this evolution hurt the true meaning of being a believer? Or has it made the excuess of "not knowing" the word of God, obsolete?
We as humans have the free will to deny the Word, as difficult as it may be in todays society. But are we desensitized enough to stop listening the the spirit inside us that we were all born with?

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Praying4You said...

Hi Mares,
Heavy stuff. What an amazing take you have on that story. So much injustice has been done to God in the name of religion. It seems as if your trip to AU is like an extended retreat for you where you are having an amazing amount of realizations and you are experiencing the "holy" in your everyday world. How gifted you are. Grace. God is always the first mover. All we have to do is be open.

At 12:21 AM, Blogger David said...


I can sense gigantic arguments coming on that we'll enjoy immensely.

But first.
I've never understood why people would be quick and willing to give credit away. If I was a badass who survived exponential death, I would look at my reflection in my beer glass, tear up, and congratulate that beautiful hombre for his sheer determination to have a life, to not die in the cold alone.

It would be mine.
It would be whosever helped rescue me.
If we survive together, if we are powerful as a team, if when our powers combine we are Captain Planet-- I'm not just going to give my assigned element (preferrably Fire or Earth) all the recognition. The Captain may have flown in fancy circles and expelled psychadellic colors from his feet, but I still held my ring and harnessed my power to add to the cause.

What I'm really saying is that: was the 'Heart' kid a boy or a girl??? And:

I move my own chess pieces.

What's the point of giving the acclaim to a source you can't prove exists? Why devote an arduous, yet beautiful, blog-sermon to it?

But then again, you've got us all here discussing and sharing together.
King me.

At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Missy said...

That's my confirmation sponsor right there!

At 10:01 PM, Blogger Tesla said...

Interesting take on the film. I cant say that i agree with you, but its intriguing. Did you ever consider that perhaps it was his lack of a belief in God that got him through it? Faith in the idea that this was all he was ever going to have. No Heaven, no Hell, no Afterlife, no need for contrition, absolution, redemption. Either stay awake or go to sleep on the side of the mountain. It would be more difficult for me to choose the latter if i thought my soul was going to end before my toenails stopped growing.

At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Jay said...

i have been very patient. And every day when i finally tell myself that i have waited long enough, done enough work and am allowed to look at your blog - i see "Burn the Maps." Now don't get me wrong... this was a great entry!! Very though provoking and profound... but it has been more than a week, and i am so sad every day when i check and it is still here!! i need more than this... It's like when you sit down to watch your favorite show and it is a re-run - even if it is a re-run you like, you still wish it was new!! i think i speak for everyone when i say - post please!!!

At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is Aunt Pat! Meem gave me the address of your blog site, so I spent a good portion of today reading through the old entries. This is so fun to hear all about your adventures, your thoughts and your humor. You are an excellent writer. I love your style. I will continue to check the site periodically and look forward to hearing more from you!

How is your job going? Are you learning the financial market?

Also, tell me more about the food there. How is it the same as here? How is it different.

Thanks for doing this for us back in the states!


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