I met a guy. He climbs for his daughter.
He’s an immigrant and has to leave the country in a month. His two years are up but his daughter will stay. A home divided.
For years he scrapped to come to America from the place where Europe and Asia meet–or separate, depending on your perspective. He felt it might provide a better opportunity for his kin. He’s still not sure.
His wife had studied in the U.S., even earned a green card at one point, and then relinquished it years ago. Circumstances. Something about not being able to afford to come back for the legal work. They tried to make it this time around, but the two years wasn’t enough.
I met a guy. He climbs for his daughter, and to grapple with the upcoming calculus: The subtraction of 3-1.
Haruki Murakami was asked about why he runs, because as a prolific writer he also has an avidity for marathons. Both are grueling endurance activities, it makes sense. Anywho, over the past few decades, on average, he has runs 6-miles-a-day-6-days-a-week. He turned his response into a book, but that’s not important.
This is: He says he runs to create a void. He runs to not think.
I can relate. These days, climbing is the only activity that cores out quietude in a muddled mental world. Running used to. Hiking has, on occasion. But climbing is the only tranquil place for me.
So what goes on when I climb? Nothing much beyond what’s in front of me. It is silence, deeply satisfying and desperately needed sometimes.
If life is like a narrative, sadness is a theme in mine.
Perhaps I’m prone to be low, to live with a mild depression. I don’t find it difficult to get out of bed or question my existence, but often my experience is tinged with the dour. The sadness is like a cat in a city alley, always sneaking around in the background.
I’m sure this is part of the human condition. I know from talking with people and seeing it in others. But so consistently? I’m not certain.
Climbing happens to bring joy, but at minimum it creates a space for the heart to catch its breath for a bit. Like the cool down after Murakami’s latest 6 miler.
The guy at the gym is quite a skilled climber. It’s like art, he dances.
We recognize beauty, probably evolved an eye for it. Its hard to explain but you know it when you see it—a symmetrical face, a flower backed by gilded rays—what I’m trying to say is, his climbing is beautiful. Fluid movements flow into each other like a waterfall in reverse. Struggle is non-existent, his toes float by without a sound. It’s like he bends space so that every motion lands exactly where it needs to be on a wall that comes to him. No wasted breath. No extra effort. The flight of a bird.
I call him The Dancer.
Another climber and I were talking about him, The Dancer. “I asked him, how long have you been here today?,” he tells me.
The Dancer replied, “4-5 hours.”
“Whoa, man, how many days a week do you climb?,” the man followed up.
“4-5 days,” The Dancer said.
The guy’s eyes are bright, and he speaks to me as if we’re sharing a secret, “Well I guess we know why he’s so good!” He’s practically winking at me.
I’m not sure the guy thought to ask, “Why do you climb so much?” Maybe he knows and didn’t know that I know, so we talked about facts and not whys.
I had spoken to The Dancer before and I did ask why. I learned of his need to create a void. But I touched on a sharp edge that left tender fingers.
“I need to go climb now, I’m starting to think about my daughter,” he said. His eyes were dim, glassy, with salted water damming at the edges.
“I’m sorry, man,” was all I could muster.
It’s not about avoiding the pain in your life, per se, to seek these spaces of solace. But I can understand the need to go there to give your damned mind and heart a break.
The Dancer seems very much in touch with the realities of his situation. And he knows he uses climbing to grapple with the pain.
After carrying around that weight all day, to be able to unshackle at the gym must feel like an Atlassian weight off the back. I imagine that’s why it looks like he floats right along.
Some days are dark and heavy, others we buoy like a butterfly.
Whether we move through the world in flight or on all fours, we do so with what we have, where we are, and with our own ways of coping.
For what it’s worth, I hope we are all so lucky to find a place of peace, if just for a few hours.
Feature photo by Dorothy Lin on Unsplash