I think this stage in my life can most accurately be compared to kindergarden. Starting over completely, from scratch.
Having new friends in my new city of Seattle and new neighborhood of Capitol Hill, I decided to catch a movie tonight. About five or six blocks away, I found the Harvard Exit Theatre, the cutest and comfiest random theater I’ve walked into.
Caught “The Guard,” which was solid.
“There’s no atheist in a foxhole,” the old saying goes. Death forces anyone to acknowledge their mortality, and any beliefs about an afterlife, but does that saying hold water today? What happens when we’re confronted with death?
The expression conjures up an image of the soldier with hands pressed together and eyes clenched shut, huddled in the foxhole. The expression seems to imply that everyone close to death makes their peace with God. That everyone confronts the reality that is God.
Certainly a century ago, the guilt of missing too many masses or dying without having confessed would be unbearable for a wounded soldier on the battlefield. But the church no longer has such a firm grip on our subconscious and metaphysical beliefs. Prayer as a reflex to death probably doesn’t happen for many 21st century Americans.
Yet there may still be something to that phrase, even if the soldier remains steadfastly atheist.
The nature of war is random, taking life from civilians and soldiers who are mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. No one can dodge a bullet. But if you are a soldier and you are to survive, survival depends on you, and on your realization of this fact. I mean, if God were in the business of saving, God would not want you to be sitting on your ass praying for the shell to miss with your eyes closed. You better be ready to jump out of the foxhole.
Human phobias and pathos are part of what make us human. Violence, fear, and trauma can be crippling. But even as hands shake and legs quiver, another part of us know what needs to be done – to call an ambulance, to pull out the rusty nail, to look away from the cliff, to keep running, to soldier on.
Sometimes we feel very intense things – horror, terror, pain, extreme boredom – that make us want to do nothing more than curl into a fetal ball, but in the same moment another part of us coldly and rationally knows what must be done. And we have the ability to choose to do the latter.
This all brings me to Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void1, an amazing story of survival under the most unlikely circumstances. Survival after Simpson believed death to be an inevitability.
The movie, with narration provided by the actual climbers and reenactments by actors, tells one of the most powerful stories I have ever heard. Simpson and his friend Simon Yates, with a friend waiting in base camp, are attempting to become the first climbers to scale the west face of Siula Grande in the Andes. They make it to the summit, but at the beginning of the descent, Simpson falls and suffers a severe break of his right leg, with the knee joint entirely destroyed and tibia coming up into the thigh.