Because It Is There and Into Thin Air

I attended a real estate breakfast seminar some months ago hosted by a well known Chicago civic organization, and had the good fortune to sit next to a gentleman that I read about some time ago, who is the oldest person to attempt to climb Mt. Everest. Actually, I spied him out of the corner of my eye as I entered the room, and slipped quietly into the chair next to him at his table.

Before the seminar started, I introducing myself, and told him that I read about his Everest attempt in the local press some time ago. He seemed flattered that I recognized who he was, and was quite eager to engage in a discussion about his attempted feat.

I asked him, when guys his  (our) age seem content to play golf, or possibly even a strenuous game of tennis, why did he choose to attempt to summit the world’s highest mountain?  He replied that, when he was in his late 50’s, he was bored with his job and was becoming lethargic. (I thought that was an interesting statement, since he was a very well known and successful mortgage broker in Chicago). He continued, “One day, a catalogue for outdoor adventure trips appeared on my desk. And, I opened it up and started reading it. I came to the section on white water rafting trips, and signed up for one, did it–and, loved it. I went on several more over the years. The adventure seemed to be good for me and got me motivated again.”

“But”, I said to him, “that doesn’t explain how you came to climb Everest.”

He replied, “Well, after I while, I wanted a new adventure. White water rafting wasn’t enough. So, I decided that I’d take up mountain climbing. I did, and liked it. I eventually climbed Mt. McKinley in Alaska–and, then the only challenge left was Everest.”

He seemed like a very warm and open person, so I asked him if climbing Everest was a “religious” experience. He said that religious wasn’t the right word. It was a very “spiritual” experience.  “How could it not be?”, he queried. “When you see the magnificence of the mountain, and become aware of the enormous challenge to climb it, it becomes a very spiritual experience”.

The room was beginning to hum with activity, as the breakfast seminar was going to begin. So, I hurried to slip in my final question. I looked him in the eyes and asked, “What did you learn from the experience?” He said that no one had ever asked him that question before.

He thought a bit and said, “I learned patience and kindness.”

I thought that was a fascinating answer. So, I asked him to briefly explain.

“Climbing Everest is the ultimate exercise in patience”, he said. “Simply putting one foot in front of the other is a monumental effort at that altitude. Nothing happens quickly. It is as if life is happening in slow motion. Each little step is a victory by itself. You gain an appreciation of the agonizing slow, steady effort that it takes to climb the mountain. I’ve been a patient man ever since.”

“And kindness?”, I asked.

“I was overwhelmed by the kindness of the Sherpa people”, he said. “Their whole culture revolves around helping one another. They made a great and lasting impression on me. The other day, I was driving down the street, and pulled over in my car to help a guy who was having car trouble. I would never have done that before I climbed Everest.”

Patience and kindness. Virtues learned on a mountain climb attempt “because it was there”–and burned in the heart, so they won’t dissipate “into thin air”.

Funny, the speaker at the breakfast seminar was an extremely prominent real estate executive in Chicago. I don’t remember a thing about what he said, but shall never forget the words of my new friend about his Everest climb.

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