I’m currently reading 127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place. I was completely fascinated by the movie which was based on the book, which was written by Aron Ralston about his now infamous experience in the Canyonlands area of southern Utah in April 2003. When I have shared my love for the Oscar-nominated film (for best actor AND best picture last year, seriously folks!) several people reacted with a nausea-tinged “I’ll pass on that one,” simply because of the gross-out potential of a climactic and seminal scene of the movie.
That moment, which many folks balked at viewing because of the horror and nastiness of it, turned out to be completely inspiring to me. I won’t summarize the whole book here, but as pretty much everyone knows, Aron Ralston cut off his right arm to free himself from a boulder where he had been crushed and pinned for five days in the desert. What he did IS terrifying and unthinkable. But the fact that he did it resonates with me at a very basic level. His story feels like a metaphor for my own keen challenges.
I love that the movie and the book take you intimately into the experience, where you see the desperation and difficulty and lack of options. One can immediately discern, like Aron did, that the only possible escapes from his predicament were these: being found and rescued by other hikers, chipping away at the rock by himself until he could move it, or cutting off his arm to free himself. After five days of trying to free himself and simultaneously hoping to be discovered and rescued, he realizes that if he doesn’t act, he will assuredly die.
I’m inspired by the courage he exibited in realizing that he could only depend on himself for rescue. It’s a valid lesson applicable to pretty much everyone: most of the time in the midst of challenges, we have to come to our own rescue. Waiting to be saved from adverse situations isn’t going to get us very far from where we are. I feel that God has given me “challenging opportunities,” or difficult situations which are ripe with refining and instructive lessons about how to become a better person. L. Tom Perry has said, “It is seldom that the Lord will do something for us that we can do for ourselves,” which to me does not mean that God takes a totally hands-off approach when we are suffering. Rather, I believe it means God expects us to accept reality and make our own luck–much as Aron Ralston did–all while we benefit from the myriad blessings we receive from God, which ultimately help us to help ourselves.
In 127 Hours, Aron has vivid dreams where he is visited by family members and his best friend. These dreams offer him moments of peace and respite from his ordeal. He finds beauty and comfort in the brief slice of warm sunlight which traverses the canyon where he is trapped, even if it is for only a few minutes a day. He explains that a moment of divine intervention whispers to him to use the rock and torque his arm against it, in order to break the bones in his forearm. He describes a vision in which he sees himself interacting with his son who will not be born for several years. These vision compel him to start amputating his arm after so many days of dehydration. As he begins the process, Aron writes that a force outside himself takes over and it is as though he is on auto-pilot, watching himself sever his own arm.
I like this story of survival and resilience because I’ve also been the recipient of innumerable, helpful blessings which do not remove me from my challenges, but which give me the strength to engage with them and move forward. They are people and insights and bits of inspiration which turn out to be gifts which propel me forward. I’m finding it’s less about escaping the challenge and more about realizing that the trick is to acknowledge from whence the tender mercies originate. I just love me a good story about triumph over adversity and the ways God intervenes to help. Just like in 127 Hours, for me it’s a true story.