The sweat rolled down my palms as I stared with a dropped jaw at the theatre screen. Alex Honnold maneuvers his body up slabs of granite thousands of feet in the air. Just a man and a chalk bag.
The documentary Free Solo captured the journey and achievement of arguably the most epic human accomplishment, one man climbing El Capitan in Yosemite with no ropes. 3200 feet in 3 hours and 56 minutes. This man is a freak.
Many thoughts ran through my mind as I watched this film, but what Alex said in the very beginning echoed in me throughout its entirety. The screen showed him balancing on small chips and crimps in the granite wall calculating his next move as the trees below him began to look like blades of grass. In the voice-over, you hear Alex say that anyone at any day could die. Could cease to exist. Free soloing just makes it that much more obvious.
That idea enthralled me. As I watched him positioned on the rock, suspended by two tiny points of contact, and one slip away from death, I realized that he was me. That’s us. All of creation held up into existence, but could drop at any moment. Frail, frail creation.
There are those rare moments of terror in our lives when we realize how close we are to death. One moment away. Whether its a car wreck, illness, or free soloing the most majestic rock wall in the world, these things put the reality of death right in front of us. Consequentially, I think, they put the reality of life in front of us as well. This is why I am fascinated by Alex’s acknowledgment of the frailty of existence. He recognizes the fact that he is not in control. That at any moment his life could end. Unannounced. The understanding and acceptance of this fact allows him to live life on a higher level than most humans. He knows how close he is to death, so he chooses to do what makes him come alive.
This perception of the wildness of existence and letting go of control allows someone like Alex to tap into the epicness of life. Full throttle, he charges ahead.
That lifestyle attracts me. Especially these past few years, real desires to travel and do something different awakened within me. Desires to be wild and not know what lies ahead. Which is contradictory to a large part of my personality and lifestyle. I like to plan. I like to know where I’m going, what I’m doing, and everything it will entail. I like to be in control. I like to set parameters on everything. However, the times where I break out of that controlling and manipulative mindset and allow myself to be free to receive what life has to offer, those are the times I feel most alive and most myself.
As my time as a college student is winding down, a lot of my brain power is devoted to anxiously thinking about plans for after I graduate. The past few years I settled on the idea of graduate school then a career in psychological counseling. However, those desires for something different sprang up hardcore within me the past few months. Desires to live a life I cannot predict and measure out. Desires to travel and live and work in foreign countries. Desires to step out of my comfortable, controlled life. Desires to learn another language. Desires to follow my heart.
Unfortunately, these desires coexist with fears. One of the fears is a fear of inadequacy. A fear that I cannot actually do these things. A fear that I am not competent enough to follow these desires and make it a reality. Even though I am aware that the reality will be totally different than the ideas in my head. Also, I know that this fear is not true. I know that I am very capable of doing these things. But, I think this is the small fear. The mask covering the big fear. The big fear is that if I decide to do these things, the trajectory of my life could very well be changed. This fear is true. And that is what’s terrifying. Stepping into the unknown. I’m scared, but I want it. I want to explore. I want to grow. I want to leave the comfort of the dock. I want to set sail.
“There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown. He wants to see what is reaching toward him, and to be able to recognize or at least classify it. Man always tends to avoid physical contact with anything strange… All the distances which men create round themselves are dictated by this fear.”
– Elias Canetti