By Tony Casson
“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6 NLT
“Few consider how much we are indebted to government, because few can represent how wretched mankind would be without it.” Joseph Addison
Jus-tice (jus’ tis) n. 1. Moral rightness; equity 2. Fairness.
“Buried in the Sky” is a book written by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan. The cover of the book says it is “The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day.” It most assuredly lives up to its billing and is well worth anyone’s time spent reading it.
For those not familiar with K2, it is the tallest peak in the Karakorum range of mountains. It rises from the earth 28,251 feet on the border of Pakistan and China. K2 is second only to Mt. Everest, which lies 882 miles to the southeast. Although the summit of K2 is “over seven” hundred feet lower than Everest, K2 has proven over time to be a much deadlier mountain and has claimed a significantly higher percentage of the lives of those who have attempted to reach its summit than those who have attempted Everest.
The book centers on the Sherpa climbers who guide individuals and teams from all over the world as they pursue their single-minded objective of standing where so few have stood before. While the book describes the events that surrounded the loss of 11 lives in early August of 2008, it is full of vivid background on the history of the two mountains, the regions in which they lie and especially the people who inhabit those areas and risk – and give – their lives as porters and guides on those expeditions to the top of the world.
I am certainly not a mountaineer but I purchased the book to learn a little more about an activity that my beloved son has expressed an interest in. If his interest grows to the point that he attempts to climb the likes of Everest and K2, all I can say is, “I will kill you if you die up there.”
In my quest for knowledge as a father who loves his child and wants to learn about the things that interest him, I was stunned and exhilarated and sobered by the lives – and deaths – of the people who risk it all for that moment when the summit is reached and their eyes behold the view that so few can claim to have seen.
In the process, I encountered a story which made me think that perhaps some of the pursuers of those lofty goals are so fixated on their own personal pursuit that their obligation to other human beings is forgotten. This particular story is told about an incident that took place on the “other” mountain – Everest – in 2006.
A 34-year-old man had summited Mt. Everest and experienced his moment looking down at the rest of the world. As mountaineers say when they reach the summit, “You’re only halfway.” Now you have to go back down and while it surely must be easier, it is safe to say it is not easy.
When this man was still about 800 feet above the closest camp, he collapsed with exhaustion. Still attached to the fixed line, he was in need of assistance or he would surely die.
Mt. Everest is extremely popular among climbers. In a recent television news report, two hundred were lined up to make their way to the summit, so it is a fairly well-traveled route as mountains go. According to the story in the book, as many as forty individuals walked past this man on the day he lay there in need of assistance. None were willing to stop and help him back down to camp because it would have put an end to the pursuit of their own moment standing on the highest point on this planet. The window to reach the summit is open only for short periods of time and the cost is an enormous one: from $30,000 to $120,000 per individual. Some have saved – others have corporate sponsors whose reward is a picture of the climber wearing, or displaying, their product on the top of the world. Surely some of them thought, “Someone else will take care of him. It is not my responsibility.” There was a lot at stake to risk it on any display of humanity.
By the time the first party had summited and returned to where the man had collapsed, he was dead. Surely he was aware that people had died before him, even on the way down. More have died since. He was doing something dangerous and he died doing it. But he died because all those who passed him ignored his needs as a result of their own “summit fever.” Their own need to reach the pinnacle of mountain climbing success was greater than saving another human being. After all, he did it to himself, didn’t he?
They all later claimed not to have seen him at all or to have thought he was just resting. Possibly true in a few cases. Probably not in all. But it was “just” a life lost. It was also easy to not consider the man’s family. They were not there and the pain and emptiness, the loss, will not be seen by those who clamored to reach the top.
Those ambitious men and women unknowingly made a statement from high above the rest of the earth. That statement said simply, “My goal, on my terms, at any cost.”
And so it is, back down here where the majority of us live and die. People closer to sea level also set lofty goals and are ambitious and, for many of them, the statement is the same. “My goal, on my terms, at any cost.” If the cost is the destruction of human lives, even when the cause is “honorable,” if the destruction is preventable and is not prevented, then the victims may as well be high up on the side of a mountain because the ones ignoring them are in the throes of their own brand of “summit fever.”
The primary responsibility of any government should be the protection of its citizens. First and foremost should be protection from foreign powers and influences trying to do harm. Secondly, there is a responsibility to keep us safe from groups or individuals within this country who endanger the safety and welfare of the general population. Thirdly is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens from themselves, where possible, when doing so clearly benefits the greater good.
There are those who speak out against some of these laws and regulations. But sometimes these intrusions are necessary for the greater benefit of all and ultimately save lives, families and – of course – money. These intrusions include seatbelt laws, helmet laws for both motorcycles and bicycles, speed limits, drinking ages, and on and on. Intrusions that are irritating to some, perhaps, but are generally seen as necessary intrusions that benefit the greater good.
So finally, after taking you on a journey up the two highest mountains on earth and back down again, I am ready to tell you about a different kind of “summit fever” right down here where most of us live – and die – and why it is time for “A NECESSARY INTRUSION.”
More to follow tomorrow…