By Brad Lindemann
At this stage of my life, it’s safe to assume I’ll never see the world from the top of Mount Everest. Though I do anticipate looking down upon the world’s highest peak in my next life and perhaps even climbing it. In this life, I will never have the perspective of those chosen few who have stood on the top of the world. But, I have personally met one of them.
It was during that spiritual retreat in Colorado in the winter of 2012. Tom was in my small group of guys who started to peel back the onion of our lives by sharing our personal stories. He was a young gentle soul in his late twenties. Lean and wiry, he seemed to calculate his every move like a predator stalking his prey. As the youngest among us, Tom seemed painfully shy and slow to warm up to the notion of bearing his soul to complete strangers from all over the country. But once he did, the rest of our stories paled by comparison.
Though he never described himself as such, young Tom was a mountain climber. He worked for an outdoor adventure ministry that helped people along in their spiritual journeys by exposing them to some of God’s best handiwork. Climbing mountains was both Tom’s vocation and avocation. And he was very good at it.
This soft-spoken mountaineer held us spellbound recounting the time that he led a small group of climbers up one of the famed Seven Summits in Argentina. At 22,837 feet, Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the Western and Southern Hemispheres. Depending upon the chosen route, it can be a relatively easy climb when compared to other peaks of similar height. However, as with any technical climb, weather is often the game-changer. As it was during Tom’s expedition.
Having taken one of the more challenging routes, Tom’s team had several harrowing close calls before reaching the Aconcagua summit. Their relief was short-lived, however, as a massive snow storm blew in, leaving them no choice but to hunker down and wait for it to pass. It was still snowing in the morning. Visibility was near zero. A descent was impossible under such conditions. Fully exposed on the summit, they laid in their tents contemplating their dangerously decreasing odds of survival with each passing hour. Again, they had no choice but to ride out the storm for another night.
With the morning came the realization that they could not survive another night on the summit. They had to attempt a descent regardless of the weather conditions. Looking at the sky, they saw little hope on the horizon. Feeling desperate, they gathered everyone under a single tarp to pray for divine intervention. Every member of that party knew that only a miracle could save them. They prayed fervently for the storm to pass and the sky to clear. They pulled the tarp back, as prepared as they would ever be to begin their death-defying descent.
Imagine their joy when they looked up to see the clouds parting with a ray of hope shining through. God had indeed answered their prayers. Their descent was nonetheless still quite challenging, with several more near-death experiences. But, every member of Tom’s team made it down safely. As he finished his story, our small group of guys let out a collective sigh of relief. Having read many high mountain adventure stories, I was particularly taken with Tom’s.
As our small group time was winding down, I attempted to engage Tom in further mountaineering conversation. He was reticent to talk about himself though, because he saw God as the main character in his story. Then I overheard him say something to the one person in the group whom he already knew.
“Did you say Everest,” I asked, thinking I surely misunderstood.
“Yes,” Tom said very matter-of-factly.
“You climbed Mount Everest?” I gasped with my eyes wide open in astonishment.
“Yeah,” he calmly said as if that feat was on every 20-somethings bucket list.
I was beyond stunned. “Did you summit?”
“Yep.” That’s it?
Yep? Seriously? The dude climbed Mount Everest before he was 30 years old and when it came time to tell his story, he left that part out? No way! Rest assured, if I had ever made it to the Everest summit the world would soon grow weary of my triumphant tale. Such humility in such a young man is, well…humbling. Young Tom, my hero, gave me quite a history lesson that day. He understands better than most that history is first and foremost His story. That’s why he chose to tell how God calmed the storm and miraculously delivered his team from the Aconcagua summit.
I did manage to get some tidbits from the Everest climb out of my humble friend, albeit reluctantly. Turns out they had perfect weather on their summit day. So much so, that he and his climbing partner decided to go ahead of their main party. When they returned to camp, fellow climbers greeted them with consoling remarks, assuming they had failed in their summit attempt. Knowing when they had departed, they thought it impossible to have returned from the Summit so quickly. They were wrong. Tom and his partner did the final summit trek as fast as anyone ever has. Amazing!
Towards the end of the retreat, like a groupie at a rock concert, I asked my new hero to autograph the tee shirt I was wearing. That sounds pretty silly, I know. But how many people do you know who have climbed Mount Everest? I only know one and doubt I’ll ever meet another. If I do, I suspect he’ll be a bit fuller of himself than my humble hero. It was Tom’s humility that I found so irresistible. I suspect his Heavenly Father does as well.
Tom has a perspective from the top of the world that I’ll never have. The only way to see what he saw is to go where he went. Not gonna happen. And, like most spectacular sights, pictures just can’t do Everest justice. That’s why I say it’s impossible to have a perspective you’ve never had. Try as we may to walk in someone else’s moccasins, until we’ve navigated the same trail in our own boots, we can’t fully appreciate another’s perspective.
Elaine and I didn’t appreciate what it was like to have financial margin until we had it during our “salad days” in Memphis. And once we had that perspective, we were shocked at how quickly we lost our previous “too much month at the end of the money” perspective. For many years, we’ve supported several overseas ministries caring for disadvantaged children in under developed nations. Yet, I didn’t fully appreciate their life-changing impact until spending time with some of those kids in South Africa during a short term mission trip. Seeing truly is believing. Having stood atop Mount Whitney, Pacer and I have a perspective of those who’ve climbed Mount Everest that can only be attained from half the height. That’s right…only half. As breath-taking as Whitney is, we can only imagine what it’s like to be twice that high atop Everest. But, our imagination coupled with our real-life experiences will get Pacer and Buster closer to the ultimate summit than those whose perspectives are limited to the foothills.
So, why is it important to understand that you can’t have a perspective you’ve never had? Accepting this truism will make you less judgmental and more understanding. It should also spur you on in your lifelong learning journey. The more you learn, the more perspective you gain and the more fulfilling life becomes. Though you can never have the exact same perspective as someone else, as your horizons expand, so will your ability to relate to those previously beyond them. It never ceases to amaze me how two people can look at exactly the same set of circumstances, yet see them very differently. Why? Because it’s impossible to have a perspective you’ve never had...so keep climbing!