You’ve heard it. You know it. But sometimes it’s hard to believe. Or questions accompany it. Why does shit go down? How did this shit happen? What is this shit?
The specifics often don’t matter. Shit is shit. And it happens.
But when you’re in deep shit, it’s hard to see out of it. It consumes you to your core until it’s hard to imagine surviving this shit.
Case and point is Meru, a film that gives an intimate look into three people fighting through obsession and loss as they struggle to climb The Shark’s Fin – a peak that has turned away climbers since it’s tectonic birth.
Jimmy Chin, world renowned alpinist and skier, stars in the film. He’s the good-looking, charming member of the team, who is both a seasoned dirtbag (he lived out of his 1989 Subaru Loyale for 7 years climbing and skiing around the country), and an outdoor magician – miraculously popping out of an avalanche that buries several acres of trees in Jackson Hole.
Most striking is that Chin is an eternal optimist who finds humor in in eating oatmeal and cous cous 12 days in a row. He laughs when he explains that the final pitch of Meru is called the House of Cards because the rock is thin and sketchy – one forced move and the whole thing tumbles.
And where Chin really excels is when shit goes down. As the climbers approach 20,000 feet, fellow climber, Renan Ozturk, has a stroke. He’s incapacitated – his movements stunted and his jaw locked into submission. The team retreats to their hanging tent, cold and scared shitless at the look of panic in Renan’s face as he battles to utter a hopeful word.
There’s no hero’s speech of optimism. No macho declaration of we will prevail! Chin and his team sit in silent contemplation, leaning up against the sides of the tent, shaking from a heavy Nepalese storm.
Night passes and Renan feels better. The team gears up and moves upwards, still intent on summiting. But months later I’m still haunted by Chin’s expression during this crisis (pictured above). It’s one of the few times his beaming smile is eclipsed with an expressionless stare as he confronts the unknown – the indecipherable moments that will follow.
It’s a weighed approach – balancing optimism with reality – embracing the severity of the moment without falling deep into the crevasse of despair. And when things do get better, Chin is called on to ascend the final pitch, The House of Cards, the crux that could send the three climbers and the top of the mountain tumbling into the Himalayan valley below.
Chin jumps on the final pitch like a hungry leopard spotting its prey and pulls himself to the summit. If there’s fear in his eyes, it’s indistinguishable. He’s a man possessed by one thought in his brain – get to the top.
As the viewer we’re blown away by the first ascent. No crampons have touched the snow that Chin now stands on. But for me, more impressive is Chin’s composure during the darkest moments of the expedition. He’s able to tap into a psychology that’s widely documented but rarely utilized – experiences whether positive or negative are the guideposts for moving forward, for progress, for learning.
These experiences can take many forms. Some make us ecstatic, others leave us terrified. But all of them shape us like hands molding clay, morphing our mental capacity into new and exciting shapes. And if the present is the sum of our experiences, than we should channel our inner Jimmy Chin and embrace every single one – sad, happy, distressing, awkward, surreal.