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Courting Danger

July 21, 2010 | by Emuna Braverman

What is the appeal of risking your life to climb a mountain?

Apparently the deadliest mountain in the world to climb is Annapurna in the Himalayas. Although it’s only the 10th highest, the fatality rate stands at 40%, dramatically higher than Everest or even the K2 in China which is purportedly a serious challenge where one in four climbers don’t make it home.

So what is the appeal? Why take a chance with such odds? It’s not a matter of survival. It’s not a matter of money. In fact, not only do you not earn anything, you actually spend a fortune. (I once read that it costs $60,000 to climb Mount Everest and it’s probably gone up since then!) It’s not discovery – many have been there before and, it seems, left their garbage behind to prove it.

So why do it? I think there are two reasons, neither of which speak to me but maybe it’s a guy thing…

One is the thrill of cheating death, a type a Russian roulette, a game where the stakes are the highest possible. I don’t understand this temptation, this desire to embrace risk. I don’t even enjoy its simulated version in the form of roller coasters or horror movies. There is even a delicacy in Japan – fugu – a fish that carries a deadly poison, only served by those who are specially licensed to remove it. But there’s no guarantee – which seems to add to the excitement because, seriously, how good could that fish possibly be? It’s the thrill, not the taste that makes this fish highly sought after and, you guessed it, extremely expensive. Yet perhaps this reason still begs the question.

Why do we want this thrill? Why would anyone feel compelled to court risk to such a degree?

Some passionate mountain climbers will probably disagree but I think that it reflects something more that just boredom. I think it suggests an inner emptiness, a hole inside that’s looking to be filled through adventure and daring. (I find that raising teenagers and trying to marry off my children provides all the adventure and daring I need!)

This is only my theory. I have no studies – longitudinal or otherwise – to prove it. But my guess is that is you lead a rich and fulfilling life, one with meaning and a connection to the Creator you don’t feel the need to affirm its preciousness through life-threatening activities. (I once had a sleepover party for a class of 25 4th grade girls – that was the closest I came to seriously courting danger!)

Although it is dramatic endeavors that make the news, the real accomplishments in life are not the deliberate confronting of unnecessary risk but the determination to face every ordinary day with a smile and optimism. The real courage lies not in climbing a mountain but in getting out of bed in the morning, embracing the day’s opportunities and battling its challenges head on.

Yes, it takes perseverance to make it to the top of the mountain. But then what? It also requires perseverance to make a good marriage, to be a supportive and loving spouse through relocations, illness, job change and loss, raising a family. It demands perseverance to be a good parent – through physical, emotional and psychological challenges. And even though the rewards may be years away.

It may not be as exciting as mountain climbing but it is clearly a much greater and longer lasting achievement. Obviously some people have a stronger need for adventure than others (and you can tell I’m not in that category!) but perhaps they don’t appreciate that life’s greatest adventure of all – to build a home filled with meaning and giving, to nurture a relationship with God – is right here under our noses.

I expect some vehement disagreement from avid mountain climbers and fugu eaters. Bring it on! Tell me what you think in the comment section below. I like to think I’m open-minded (although my husband and children may feel differently…)


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