Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing testimonies and devotions from some of our band members.
Today we want to share another thought from Willie Young.
When I first met Jeff, he was sitting in a chair which looked as though it was several sizes too large for him, his diminutive form sunk between the over-sized cushions. As he stood up to greet me, the effort did nothing to make him look any bigger. This is the man (I thought) who is going to guide me and 12 others up the highest and most rugged mountains in Scotland … and later, all the way to the highest on earth.
I needn’t have worried. Jeff not only proved himself (as if he had to prove anything to any of us) to be a knowledgeable and capable climber and mountaineer, but to be a human being with immense integrity, resolve and sound judgement, and yet with an air of humility and modesty which was almost disconcerting … one of a rare breed of individuals people like me, and others, would follow (and have followed) to the end of the earth – all five-and-a-half feet of him!
Jeff’s background was in politics as adviser to a group of MSPs, and he also spent a great amount of his time setting up projects for young adults who had lost their way in life. But it was on the mountainsides that one could observe the depth and quality of his character and leadership.
As I came to know him better, Jeff began to open up and describe his experiences on Himalayan expeditions. A frequent visitor to Nepal, he was a member of a team to successfully reach the summit of Everest (twice!), K2 and Anapurna. With no sense of puffed-up heroism, he once related the events of his 2nd Everest ascent.
On the ice-fall between Base Camps 2 and 3, his group (as every group) had to gingerly traverse a way across gaping crevasses which are spread right over the Kumba Glacier, the most treacherous and exhausting part of the early climb, and right in the middle of ‘avalanche country’ tumbling down from the ‘Death Zone’. After completing this stretch (with no mishaps), the weather held and the group reached the summit without major incident. When, on the descent, they arrived back on the Ice Field, it was Jeff’s turn to lead the team safely through the heavily crevassed terrain.
Unfortunately, while they were still on the summit of Everest, several avalanches lower down had covered the ‘safe’ areas with fresh snow, which meant Jeff (as front-man) had to slither on his belly (still roped to the others) prodding the snow with his climbing pole, feeling his way for a safe passage. Without warning, the snow under him gave way and down he went, dangling 30 feet inside a crevasse he couldn’t see the bottom of.
Not all stories like this have happy endings. This one did … and there was I, looking at this wee guy who was suddenly 10 feet tall in my esteem.
One of the lessons I learned from my experience of knowing Jeff, is that climbers do not put themselves at risk in order to fulfil their pursuits and ambitions, and survival is an issue they contemplate later. And it is true that survival sharpens their perceptions and increases their love of life, as it is the same for all of us. Even although we try to lead the safest of lives, everything can change in an instant.
These days, I feel blessed that I enjoy good health and a degree of fitness that keeps me moving; yet, such happiness, however sound I imagine it to be based, still trembles on an edge as fragile as that on which Jeff and his team almost met tragedy … a happiness that could just as easily slip and fall away into oblivion.
We have all come through a lot of uncertainty over recent months, and some people have suffered enormously when the foundations of family life and good health were dealt a terrible blow. And yet, in the midst of a pandemic which is in no hurry to dissipate, the human spirit remains strong and determined, and we are urged to appreciate living day by day and to remind ourselves that there is no time to be lost and nothing to be taken for granted.
In one way or another, we all have our mountains to climb. How we do so is a matter between ourselves and God. So, whether you are 5-and-a-half feet or 10 feet tall, remember there is a Presence and a Power within us to keep us focussed and optimistic for the future.
Just to remind you of a well-loved verse which nowadays seems particularly relevant:
“I know a fount where sins are washed away,
I know a place where night is turned to day;
burdens are lifted, blind eyes made to see:
there’s a wonder-working power in the blood of Calvary.”