Saturday, March 31, 2012

Five Books to Read: #2 - 127 Hours

After completing my own book (GetItHere), I thought it worthwhile to discuss books that shaped my mindset and style, those books that meant enough to me to warrant multiple readings and quiet reflection. One of those five books (all of which will be discussed in this blog but in no particular order) is detailed below...

Note: The first post on Nothing Like it in the World by Stephen Ambrose can be found here.


Let's get this out of the way first: '127 Hours' isn't a book to me. Neither is it an Oscar-nominated movie.

127 Hours is an experience.

A little background. I remember reading the first published reports in 2003 about a hiker that had to cut off his own hand and portions of his arm to save his own life. Reports were thin on detail and running over with hyperbole and sensationalism, and who could blame them? A dude CUT OFF HIS HAND to save his own life. It was graphic and heroic, visceral and amazing. Water cooler discussions as to whether or not we could do it if forced followed the next day. The hardcore people, those weekend warriors that were 'tough as nails' and thin on experience, said they certainly could but would never be dumb enough to get in that position in the first place. Others cringed at the merest thought of slicing into their own skin.

But, that wasn't the story. We were oversimplifying and posturing. We didn't know what happened to Aron Ralston that day. And, we certainly couldn't know what we'd do in his place.

Well, Aron wrote a book. I'll be honest - I was intrigued by the story but had about a dozen books on my 'to-read' list and wasn't interested enough to vault it to the top. So, I never did. Then, the movie - starring James Franco - was released in 2010. I like Franco. The movie looked well done. I checked it out.

No words can explain how that movie made me feel. You have to be the right 'type' of person in the right place in your life to be shaken by a particular movie. I was. It wasn't the scene of him performing the amputation. In fact, I recall little of the scene. But, the atmosphere Danny Boyle built for two hours was amazing. I spent the rest of the night texting friends explaining why they HAD to see the movie. But, more importantly, I walked right out of the theater, across to the bookstore, and bought Ralston's book.

Now, we all know books are better than movies. In fact, I can't recall one time where I read a book and was then more impressed with the cinema equivalent. I'm sure it happens, but I'd think that would be due more to the director changing the source material to meet filming conventions (which I wholly support). Either way, watching the movie affected me. Reading the book changed me.

The movie touched on some things that resonated with me: failed relationships, the inevitability of destiny, the need to have others in your life looking out for you. Hearing Ralston's first-hand account shook me to the core. The fact that the boulder had been sitting there for years (hundreds? thousands?) just waiting on Ralston to come along and dislodge it, to bring it crashing down on his hand, was fascinating. It wasn't personal, it just... was. He felt no animosity toward the rock. He couldn't hate it... not really. He screamed at it. He pounded on it. He cursed it.

But, it's just a rock.

Just a rock... but this simple rock forced him to analyze his life. So simple a thing but so deep a reaction. So many life-changing events require external action, even blame. But, who did Ralston blame? Certainly not anyone else. The rock? I doubt it. Himself?

Ah, there's the rub, isn't it. It's his own fault... but does fault equal blame? If he hadn't been so fiercely independent and traveled with a buddy, he'd have help. If he'd even told people where he was going, he'd have help. If he'd descended the cut six inches to the left he wouldn't even need help. So, it's his fault, but is he to blame? Fault belongs to whatever or whomever causes something. But, blame... blame is highly dependent on intent. Did he, knowing the possible outcomes of his actions, intentionally place himself in danger...? Hiking through a mountain cut, even alone and without friends' knowledge of your location, is hardly dangerous. This is especially true given Ralston's extensive experience with more difficult terrain. So, is he to blame?

I don't know Ralston, but I think he'd disagree. I know I would. Sometimes, fate has a plan for you, and things just... are. If he'd died out there that day, would he be to blame? When you make decisions for yourself that only affect you... can you be blamed for consequences?

See? Philosophical questions... And, such questions are found throughout his account. I'd love to spend a day discussing the ramifications of that day with Ralston. The thoughts that go through one's mind during such an ordeal must have been amazingly enlightening. This wasn't a life flashing through a man's mind during a fatal car wreck. Nor was it the surprise of a heart attack victim as they pass away. This was 127 hours of thoughtfulness and introspection, much of it caught on video and film thanks to the camera he brought. There was problem-solving as he tried to free himself and rigged harnesses to support the boulder and his own weight. There was hope for rescue and fear of what he'd leave behind. There was reflection on a life lived and regret on what future he'd miss. Hour after hour... day after day.

This wasn't the final thoughts of a grandfather passing away in a hospital bed surrounded by his family and thankful for the life he had. This was the slow death of a young man that had lived hard and well... and had decades of life ahead of him. Ralston talks of his own fears and hopes and dreams, but what would I think about? What would I do?

If I died today, would I consider my life complete? A 'success'? This isn't one of those 'if you had a week left, what would you do' questions. You don't get to live your life for the last seven days of it. You have to live your life EVERY day of it. If you can even answer that 'one week left' question, I might even contend that you haven't lived the last 20 years of your life. Bucket List? I don't even have a bucket list... I have plane reservations and race plans. I have hiking permits and endurance challenges already lined up.

Don't make lists. DO things.

The book engendered all these thoughts in me and more. It changed me.

After reading it - just as I did after the movie - I began wondering where my 'boulder' was. Was there a tree in the Maine woods waiting for some future visit to fall in my path that would direct me down some less-traveled trail to a fascinating fate? Was there a root hidden under a mountain stream that I would get tangled in while hiking through California next year? Would one of my nightly runs through the city turn me down a forgotten street? I firmly believe in destiny and fate, and the philosophical introspection that 127 Hours presented to me gave more food for thought than I would have possibly imagined.

Do yourself a favor and spend some time with it.

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