I have had many acquaintances in my 43 years. There are a few people I list as very close and dependable friends. I have to confess that I haven’t always been a dependable friend either. I received a lesson about friendship while rock climbing in the late 1980’s with my friend Jim. It was a warm summer day at Seneca Rocks WV and we decided to do a long technical rock climb–Thais direct–that follows one of the most obvious features on the rock–a 250 foot high inside corner, or “dihedral”.
I belayed Jim as he lead the first pitch. Belaying is a method to limit a partner’s potential fall using the rope. When you have your partner on belay, you literally have their life in your hands. Jim climbed about 100 feet, set belay, and I joined him. I then lead the second pitch which left me near the South Peak summit and Jim a rope length below. I deliberately fixed a very short anchor as a safety measure and tied myself in to a high, prominent block of rock so I would have a spectacular view. Now it was my turn to belay Jim. As Jim climbed I took the slack out of the rope insuring that he would not fall.
Now Jim was a solid climber but he didn’t know about the hidden hold in the first crux after the ledge that made an otherwise difficult climb relatively easy. He also didn’t have a good view of the valley from where he was. As Jim struggled, I noticed that dark clouds were forming up the valley. I yelled down to him to get a move on, but high winds were starting to blow making it impossible for him to understand me. In no time, the storm hit—and it was a doosie. Soon lightening was raining all around the valley and I was perched on one of the highest promontories in the immediate area making my body one of the highest points around. Since I was tied into a short anchor, I could only move a foot or two and I literally held my friend’s life in my hands. Then it happened. Do you know what it is like to rub your feet on the carpet and touch somebody giving them a shock? What happened to me was like God did that and then hit me over the top of my helmet with all of His might. I had been struck by lightning.
Well, I’m not sure if it was my helmet that saved me, but I wasn’t hurt, just badly shaken up, and I couldn’t both find shelter from the storm and keep Jim’s belay rope taught. Lightening was still crashing down all around me. I would like to say that I didn’t even think about letting go of the rope and leaving, but that would be a lie. But… Somehow I found it in myself to make the right decision. Despite the risk to my own life, I had to stay there and pull in the rope until Jim climbed over the lip at the top. Fortunately, being highly motivated by the lightning, he climbed up to me in record speed. We high-tailed it off of the top and did two rappels to get to the ground, arriving just in time to see the storm dissipate.
Now the point I want to make here is this; even though I haven’t always been the best of friends over the years, I found out that day that I have what it takes to be a true friend. I believe that every single human being on Earth has this quality deep inside them. For some of us, we just don’t know it’s there it until we really need it.
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