The blind man and Everest

Little by little we seem to grow used to the same metaphors for life. Some time ago I wrote in this column the “Manual for climbing mountains”, and out of the blue I meet a reader in Hamburg who decides to share his experience with me about climbing in life. He discovered what hotel I am in, and has some criticism to make of my page in the Internet. After making some harsh comments, he asks:

“Do you mind if I take a photo with my girlfriend?”

Of course I don’t. He picks up his cellular, presses a button, says nothing, and his girlfriend turns up a minute later.

After the photo is taken comes the next question, this one more intriguing:

“Can a blind man climb Mount Everest?”

“I don’t think so,” I answer.

“Why don’t you answer ‘perhaps’?”

I am almost certain that I am in the company of a “compulsive optimist.” One thing is the whole universe conspiring for our dreams to become true, quite another is to place yourself in front of absolutely unnecessary challenges, which can lead to death or unpredictable failure.

I explain that I have to leave for an appointment, but the reader does not give up.

“The blind can climb Everest, the highest mountain in the world (8,848 meters). Not only can they do it, but I happen to know of at least one blind person who did it. His name is Erik Weihenmayer. Can your appointment wait?”

Since he gave me a name, there could an interesting story here. My appointment can wait, of course.

“In 2001, Weihenmayer managed the feat. Meanwhile, people complain that they cannot afford a better car, more elegant clothes, and a salary that matches their abilities.”

“Are you sure?”

“Look it up in the Internet. But what fascinates me is that Weihenmayer knew exactly what he wanted: he changed his life into what he thought it should be. He had the courage to risk everything to have the universe conspire in his favor.”

I agree. The reader goes on, as if my attitude is no longer of any interest to him:

“If you know what you want in life, then you have all you need to manage to make your dream come true. Didn’t you yourself say that?”

Of course. But there are limits, such as blind people climbing the highest mountain on earth.

“And if people have no dreams, what are they supposed to do?”

“Think about something that they would like to be doing, and then take the first step,” I answer. “Without being afraid of making a mistake. Without fear of offending those who ‘worry’ about their behavior.”

“That’s it!” said the reader, for the first time identifying my ideas clearly. “So we realize that to reach what we want we have to run risks. Don’t you say that in your books?”

Not only do I say it, but I also try to keep my word. But we are interrupted in our conversation; it is time for the appointment that has brought me to Hamburg. I thank him for his attention, ask him to send me suggestions for my page on the Internet, we take another picture and then say goodbye.

At three o’clock in the morning, returning from that event, I reach into my pocket for the key to my room and discover the piece of paper where he had jotted down the blind man’s name. Even knowing that I have to travel to Cairo in a couple of hours, I turn on the computer, and there it is:

“On 25 May 2001, at the age of 32, Erik Weihenmayer became the first blind person to reach the top of the highest mountain in the world. A former high-school teacher, he received the ESPN and IDEA prize for his courage in overcoming the limits that his physical condition permitted. Besides Everest, Erik Weihenmayer has climbed the other seven highest mountains in the world, including Aconcagua in Argentina and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania”.

If you don’t believe it, look it up.