Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Untold stories: part 1
The other day we decided to eat dinner down at the beach. We packed some pasta and a couple Sierra Nevadas and joined the tribes of colorful characters that grace the lawn at the end of Newport as the sun goes down. This is why I love this place:)
Right as we sat down, I noticed a man off to my left that was making his way across the grass with a sleeping bag; obviously getting ready to settle in for the night. He was probably in his 60's, had long unkempt grey hair and a matching beard. His mustache was so long, you couldn't see his mouth. His clothes were dirty and worn, revealing that he been without a shower in weeks...maybe months. Truthfully, he looked similar to many others I had met here. EXCEPT, he had no legs beneath his knees and he was wearing shorts. He was dragging his body across the grass, attempting to move his stuff. This drew a lot of attention including ours...it was hard to watch.
Clay jumped up to grab his remaining bag and carried it over for him. He initiated conversation and invited him to join us on our blanket and share a meal. As the man neared our picnic, I was grateful to be able to help out with some food, but I braced myself for what I expected to be a typical conversation; erratic and hard to follow.
His name was J.C. When asked what had brought him to the streets of OB, he answered clearly and politely. He had just finished riding a hand pedaled bike from Lake Tahoe to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The journey had taken him 7 months. Just after crossing the border back into America, he was jumped by a group of street kids. They stole everything he had, including his prosthetic legs.
I was shocked and I think my jaw actually dropped. He went on. The local Veterans hall had heard about his situation and were providing him with new legs and arranging a ride home. They had also offered him a job working with other Vets that weren't as ambitious and needed a role model and a little inspiration. He declined. Evidently, the police were so thankful for his presence on that grassy knoll that they brought him breakfast biscuits every morning...he looked so intimidating that the normal band of vagrant troublemakers had stayed away since J.C. had arrived.
Intrigued and curious to know more, Clay continued, "J.C., if you don’t mind my asking, how did you lose your legs?"
He answered simply, "I froze them off on Everest 4 years ago."
He explained that he had been caught in a storm with his climbing team. Buried in snow for 3 days at an elevation with very little oxygen, three of them had died and he had just lost his legs.
Although I felt a little awkward asking, I was captivated by his story and I pressed on," So were you able to summit the mountain before the storm rolled in?"
He answered humbly, "I've summited Everest twice. This was my third attempt."
So by now I’m thinking that this man was either crazy, or one of the most amazing individuals I have ever had the pleasure of sharing a meal with. My only frame of reference for an expedition of this magnitude is John Krakauer's book 'Into Thin Air' about his epic Everest accent. I brought this up to try and connect with his experience and I'll admit, partly to test the validity of his story. He immediately corrected me on the pronunciation of Krakauer's name and then explained that he knew him well. They grew up together in Oregon and were climbing buddies. Guess that solves that. He went on to tell us how National Geographic had caught wind of his bike adventure through Baja and had come down to follow him for a story. Next summer they would follow him again as he pedals his bike through South Africa.
As I stared at this rugged, remarkable man who had overcome so much, I was struck by how misguided judgments can so easily erect walls that eclipse opportunities throughout our life. Stories we never hear, roads we never travel.
We form judgments all day long. This is a necessary process as we traverse our little worlds. A lot of the time our judgments are healthy and wise: When to switch lanes on the freeway, when to keep my daughter close at a shady park, when to press in to a relationship...when to step back. Other times, it is not so clear.
As intentional as we might be, our judgments are based on a very small, myopic perspective, shaped by a unique combination of experiences and constraints. From this lens, we peer out and begin our search for truth and assign meaning and significance to our lives.
I read the other day in one of Timothy Keller's books, "We like to think we think for ourselves...but we think like the people we most admire and need."
Let that someone that I most admire and need be my Creator and let my thoughts align with His thoughts. Only then can I judge rightly...at least some of the time.