by Becky De Oliveira—
Into the Void is the story of British mountaineers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates on a fateful ascent of a peak in the Andes mountain range by a new route. They made it to the top without serious incident, but they ran into trouble on the way down when Joe first broke his leg and then fell through a cornice and was left dangling over a crevasse—still attached by rope to his partner, who held on for as long as he could. Eventually it became clear that he could not pull Joe up and that Joe’s weight would eventually pull them both down—and they’d both die, either from the fall or from hypothermia or dehydration.
Simon made the devastating and difficult decision to cut the rope, save himself, and let his partner fall into the crevasse. Joe was lucky enough to land on a ledge several meters below the opening of the crevasse and made several attempts to climb the slick walls and free himself. But with a broken leg, he couldn’t get out the usual way, and for a while he despaired, certain that he would die. Against intuition and good sense, Joe decided that he didn’t want to just sit on the ledge waiting for death. If he couldn’t climb up and out of the crevasse, he’d descend farther down into it. Anything to keep moving. So he went down instead of up—away from the light. And inexplicably, he found a crack that revealed a bit of blue sky. He dug his way out and climbed into the sunshine on the edge of the mountain.
So he was out of the crevasse, but still nowhere close to being safe. He had miles and thousands of vertical feet to descend over perilous conditions back to the campsite—a site he had no way of knowing would still be there even if by some miracle he reached it. He had no water. And a broken leg. But what else to do? He got moving. First he constructed a makeshift splint for his leg. Then he proceeded to set small goals for himself. He’d select a spot and decide that he only had to make it that far; he could give up when he reached that place. Upon arriving at the spot, he’d collapse, often delirious and hallucinating, often falling into a sort of unconsciousness.
And every time, a voice inside his head woke him up. “Get up!” it shrieked, forcing him to select yet another spot, to go just that one bit farther. Over and over again he struggled to his feet, each time convinced this would be the last. But the voice didn’t give up. It carried him all the way to the campsite where, miraculously, he found Simon—who had been very nearly ready to pack up and begin the two-day trek back to civilization, convinced his friend and partner was dead. A couple of things clearly helped Joe survive: doing just a little at a time—breaking a seemingly impossible task into small doable chunks—and trying things that were not particularly rational or intuitive. What did he have to lose?
What do you have to lose by taking a risk in the way you approach your life and your work? Especially if you’re attempting something that is at best very difficult and at worst theoretically impossible?
Maybe sometimes this is the upside to an impossible task: It forces you into a situation in which you have nothing to lose. With nothing to lose, maybe you can come up with a better plan. Whatever you may be facing in your life right now—and I can almost guarantee that you have at least one huge problem that keeps you awake at night—try coming at it from another angle. Trying giving it to God. His will be that voice that urges you on, that moves you in the direction of solutions and answers. Look around you for that tiny crack in your tomb of despair, that sliver of blue sky leading you home.
Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.