Watch Free Solo, read poetry and know that it takes faith to make it through—anything.
One spring day in Vail, years ago, my brother and I woke to Easter baskets filled with chocolate and a card signed by the Easter Bunny himself. The evidence was in his signature—the brown muddy stamp of a paw.
We ran out on the deck of the Tyrolean-styled chalet, the home of my parents’ best friends, and looked for the magic rabbit, hoping to see him high-kicking his way through the first green grass of the season, which was already being covered in a fresh spring snow.
I was always ready to believe in these things. The magic. The mystery. Wondering if said bunny might even be tricked-out in a suit with tails. It was the same on Christmas Eve, when I would watch up over the rooftops and power lines for a glimpse of flying reindeer. Or how even now when I go to bed I get on my knees to say thanks, and imagine away and above in the stars about who or what might care.
That might be the best part of living, I think, embracing the ever-changing line between what you think and what you feel.
One of the cool things I have noticed about Free Solo, the Academy Award-winning documentary of Alex Honnold’s no-rope climb of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan, is how even though we all know he succeeds, your palms still get sweaty watching it, wondering if, even now, he might fall.
According to 19th century poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (author of such works as “Kubla Khan” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”), the suspension of disbelief is key to enjoying good fiction, especially now in regards to epic fantasies, like The Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars.
That’s what is so ironic about watching Free Solo. Namely, we can convince ourselves something tragic might yet happen, even as we are watching a remarkable individual believe so much in his own talent and skill that he single-handedly raises the bar for one of the most dangerous, demanding sports in the world.
If we can believe so strongly in a false, negative outcome, then shouldn’t we also be able to imagine a beautiful happy ever after for everything else that we dream and do?
The Last Rain
I’ve been working on a novel about climate change for more than 20 years. It takes place in New Mexico, and includes a character who calls in the clouds, an idealistic young man who every spring helps clear his community’s acequias (irrigation ditches) and a very smart young lady with dark eyes and black hair.
Since I started writing it, I have published three books. And hopefully, this fall, I will publish one more. The reason I can’t finish writing this book, tentatively titled Emil after the rain-bringing old man, is because I haven’t taken the time to learn enough Spanish.
Spanish is the language they speak in heaven, or so I have heard. And if I am going to write about a weather deity, I should certainly be fluent in the language that he would use.
There might be another reason, though: When I first started writing Emil, I immediately divulged the entire plot to a friendly mountain girl with blonde hair and a wide, goofy smile. She was dating a friend of mine, which I think made it easy for us to laugh and joke and share secrets without thinking it might lead anywhere.
When she killed herself, it was the first time I realized how when someone kind and gentle leaves the world, it feels like part of your own future died as well.
The Joy of Sorrow
Of course I still wonder about how I might have helped her. About what I didn’t see, or what sadness she hid inside that I never knew. I also wonder how it will feel to finally finish writing that book—even if it’s only for myself—if I might find a little sense of peace the next time I remember that sweet smile.
Of course, anyone who has read Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet knows that, “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” Or to put it more simply, joy and sorrow are inseparable.
And I believe that is true. I believe that the occasional thorns and bruises and broken hearts we all suffer along the way are also what makes it possible for us to find so much happiness and pleasure in this world. You know, the way the rain brings the flowers and the long rays of light that shine like heaven through the clouds.
I certainly believe I am a better person for having known her, and every one of you. I also believe that I am going to go to my refrigerator for an ice-cold beer and then sit on my patio with my dogs and start working again on that book right now.