I know this is going to sound pretty insensitive to many of you – but brutal honesty sometimes does. I’ll try to be gentle.
This Mount Hood situation is a tragedy on many levels. First and most important is the loss of three climbers and the effect on their families.
Second, the fact that it takes us almost two weeks to begin being a little honest with each other is another sign of our collective mental illness.
Third, that the story clogs the airwaves for over a week is another tragedy indeed.
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on whether religion is a net positive or net negative for society, and seeing Mrs. James, understandably glassy-eyed, in front of television cameras a few days ago saying that Jesus would be bringing her husband down from the mountain for Christmas – well, that was one more mark in the “negative” category. I remember thinking two things: first, sure he will; second, if Jesus is going to do it, what’s with all the fucking helicopters?
Yesterday in chatting with my friend Chris, who was driving beneath the mountain at the time and brought up the subject, I fleshed out a few of these thoughts. Why can’t we admit that they are almost certainly dead? They’ve had 10 feet of snow, it’s below zero every night, and some nights they’ve had 100 MPH winds. Sure, we can be kind about it, we can say that the search continues for these men, we can be good members of the community and help these families cope and recover – but it’s long past time to stop elaborate fantasies about their survival. It’s possible – sure – but exceedingly unlikely. What do we think? That we’re just going to stumble across a Starbucks we didn’t realize was up there and find them huddled over a latte? (“Phew – we were worried sick about you guys! Doppio, please.“)
These guys took a major risk, they knew the odds and accepted them. I can respect that, and we should, too. We should also be more willing to accept loss and pain when they face us.
When I was a kid, I used to hang around with this old lady named Pauline Gay, a friendly face who made all the neighborhood kids grilled cheese sandwiches and was never short an anecdote. She used to tell a story that still kinda haunts me. When Pauline was much younger, her mother became very ill and was bedridden. Her mother was looking quite bad and one day asked Pauline to fetch her hand mirror from one of the drawers in her clothes chest so she could see herself. Pauline went over to the chest and pretended to be unable to find the mirror because, obviously, she didn’t want her mother to see how bad she looked. She intended it as a lesson to us kids about when lying is OK and when it is not, but I struggle with its lesson more now that I’m older. I used to lie a lot as a younger person (mostly because of social insecurities,) but avoid it at almost all costs now that I’m older. I think when we are dishonest with each other we only defer pain, embarrassment, shame and grief – and it costs us in character and stunts our evolution. It also allows us to avoid learning diplomacy; it’s not as if one is ever forced into dishonesty – one chooses it because it’s easier (in the short term) than truth. This is usually because most people don’t have much practice or comfort with being gracefully truthful in the face of difficulty.
Anyway, I want these guys to be OK, it’s just that they aren’t. I also want to win a $250 million Powerball jackpot (hey, someone’s gotta win.)
Another friend today said “look, 90% of people agree that they are dead.” I say: the other 10% will be looking out for Santa Claus next week.
I commend the people who were out there hunting for them, especially early on when there was still reasonable hope – and I hope the search for them doesn’t cost us more lives. I hope the families find strength and healing at a time when it must certainly feel impossible to come by.