So there are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One is an atheist, the other, shall we say, a God-fearing man, and they’re arguing about the existence of God, with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer.
And the atheist says, “Look, man, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God-and-prayer thing. Just last month – you remember that awful blizzard – I couldn’t see a thing, I was totally lost and it was fifty below. And so I did – the honest truth – I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out, “Please God, if you’re up there, deliver me from this place.”
Now the man of God looks at the atheist all puzzled, “And here you are – proof indeed.”
The atheist rolls his eyes, “Nah man, just a couple Eskimos happened to wander by and they showed me the way back to camp.”
That last story isn’t true. But this one is:
A few summer ago, my good friends Damon and Terry were out kayaking the daily stretch on the Salmon River just outside of Stanley, Idaho when they came around a bend to see something they have neither seen before or since. On a flat boulder along the bank of the river, four adults and a teenager- their hands together, their eyes closed – lie prostrate or kneeling toward a slender and blue twelve year old lying immobile on his back. An upside down raft mid-stream, pinned against a cottonwood strainer, flexing against the surging river.
“What’s going on?,” yells Terry as she paddles toward the scene. Damon pulls over, sees the blue kid, and without hesitation or question, commences CPR. Each a long-time river guide, Terry and Damon swap 30:2 shifts for fifteen minutes. The boy slowly opens his eyes, at once frightened and disoriented. The father reaches over to Terry and says, “We knew you would come.”
What are the lessons learned?
The point here is not to argue for or against the existence of God. He or she exists or doesn’t exist regardless of what we think. The point is for us to stack the deck in our favor. Take a companion rescue course. Take a Wilderness First Aid course. If and when your friend, spouse, or child is buried three feet down with a snapped femur, will they know you’ll be there to get them out? Or will they be frightened and disoriented, but not as frightened and disoriented as you.
Hope and chance are poor risk management strategies.
The top story comes from David Foster Wallace in his book This is Water. (pulled from his May 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech). Part of his speech can be found here. A beautiful piece from a beautiful mind, on not life after death, but before. Wallace wrote over 15 books, including Infinite Jest, The Pale King, and Oblivion: Stories. Genius of our time. He, like Everett Ruess, found that the beauty of life was more than he could bear. He took his own life in September, 2008.