B4 we Climb the Mountain

I have just taken eight days to order B4, and I’m not sure that even marriage is as emotionally complex as choosing a power wheelchair!

I don’t much like buying cars as a rule: like all shopping it’s confusing and highly worrying!  But cars are a simple matter compared to the task I have just completed.  A vehicle is a part of life, we grow up with them and we’ve spent ridiculous amounts of time in them.  If you’re a bloke you’ve probably also discussed their relative merits in endless, boring detail.  In complete contrast power wheel chairs are almost as much of a mystery to me now as the female of our species once was.   And like women they come in many, many shapes and sizes with a dizzying array of accessories; and they are, of course, fabulously expensive.

In the middle of all this my Favourite Wife and I have been away for a couple of nights at our mountain retreat.  Hoping once again that it would snow (it didn’t!), I packed a recently purchased book describing the first Australian ascent of Mount Everest. Falls Creek is hardly the Himalayas, but we love living so close to the ski resort with its exotic atmosphere and backdrop of alpine wilderness.  Packing for two days in a five star hotel isn’t quite like preparing to climb Everest either; but as I read this enthralling book on our balcony in the 3° air I realised that I have begun the same phase of intricate preparation that a mountaineer completes long before the climb.

(The secret, by the way, to reading a book outdoors in 3° air is to keep only your eyes, fingers and the book itself above water in your hot tub).

I recognise a shift in the way I am facing the future.  Perhaps I have turned a corner.  Just as it has been months since the medical community last mentioned the likelihood of treatment; so my own thoughts rarely centre on some form of reprieve.  That seems largely irrelevant. Instead I am galvanised by the task at hand, and I am applying myself to this season of life just as I have to every other. 

Climbers prepare for months, and then travel for weeks through foreign and sometimes hostile terrain to reach ‘Base Camp’; only then does the ascent actually commence. On the same day that I was packing for Falls Creek I also found myself researching the options of high tech infra-red and blue-tooth functions that can be built into B4’s controls.  I also conversed with a Melbourne based speech therapist about various approaches to ‘augmentative and alternative communication’, and I exchanged emails with an American university who are beta testing software that makes complex voice recordings for future use.  Would-be Everest summiteers find themselves becoming public property as the media zero in on the drama of a true life and death contest.  B2 and I simply headed down town to be examined by another medical student keen to explore the mystery.

In his book, White Limbo, Lincoln Hall eloquently describes the way climbing claimed his life, asking more of him than any other pursuit.  “My existence was irrevocably bound with the challenge, the friendships and the lack of confusion which makes mountaineering separate from the illusions and pretensions of everyday living”.  His words bring a smile of recognition to my face.  I have often felt drawn to the things which demand most of me; and this season is no exception.  There is a purity to extreme challenge: a life and death struggle certainly does cut through the ‘illusions and pretensions’ that are so much the fabric of normal life.   

I absolutely have to test myself against the mountain I face; and in a paradoxical way surrender to the adventure before conquering it.  There is exhilaration in the privilege of living that extends into life’s darkest hours and steepest challenges. Unlike mountaineering my climb is no invented game of risk. This is survival, not in an elected pursuit, but in life itself.  

There is just one discordant note: I am unsettled by the reward I find in the challenge. Exhilaration is a guilty pleasure: it seems so inappropriate! But more on that topic another time…


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