August 28, 2012

Riding In The Moment

“It makes my prayers clearer.”

These were the words of Thomas, the trekker who is still walking the Pacific Crest Trail, hiking from Mexico to Canada. (See entry "Where Prayer Is Clear.") These words describe his passion for walking long distances. Alone, his belongings are in one neat backpack: his kitchen, a light-weight pot atop a tiny kerosene burner; his bed, a sleeping bag; and his home, the forests and peaks of some of the most beautiful mountains in the world.

These same words resonate within me. I understand the peace in the simplicity of his life. And I acknowledge the deep spirituality engendered in connecting with nature. Each step offers an opportunity to breathe in clean, fresh air and to be amazed by the intricacy and grandeur of the surroundings.

I hummed these same words as I cycled along a single track trail in northern Israel. Twigs crunched below my tires as the path hugged the mountainside. A deep valley fell below, rising up to the village of Dalton, its fields a patchwork of green amidst the golden grass of a hot, parched summer.  

I pedaled on into a thick pine forest. These trees were once saplings carefully planted by the Keren Kayemet l’Israel; now they tower above, offering me exquisite shade and a cool respite from the blazing sun. 

Suddenly the view opened out onto the lush Hula Valley. Once a swamp teeming mosquitoes and malaria, it is now a green swathe, its pools of water glinting in the sunshine. The white storks that passed above me last night at sunset must now be resting in these cool waters.  
Looking up, I saw Mount Hermon, Israel’s tallest mountain standing at 9,232 feet (2,814 meters). A dwarf compared to other mountains in this world, here in Israel, Hermon dominates the Golan, flourishing snowy slopes from January until May. Today, in the intense heart, Hermon is cloaked by a hot haze.

At the end of the trail, I came to a paved road and start to bike back. Up. And up. And up again. The sun beat down on me. Sweat poured over my brow and into my eyes, stinging my cheeks. I breathed deeply and my heart raced. As I slowly pedaled, my bike creaked as if it were groaning, and I thought of Thomas’ words. I entered into this moment.

Reaching a section of the road with open fields on each side, I felt a breeze. At first it tingled my arms as if awakening me. And then it strengthened, swaying tree boughs and hushing tall, dried grasses.

I suddenly felt Hashem’s presence in  a profound way. And I knew this moment would  be lost to me if I had not been alone; it would have passed unnoticed if I had not been in simplicity and silence--and in nature.  

I pedaled on, fuelled by a profound feeling of gratitude and by a new-found energy.
I pedaled  up in the heat of the day, a wide smile on my face.

August 15, 2012

As If He Saved An Entire World

Having just written about Israelis on the trail, I feel I have to include this incredible tale of valor and kindness.

On May 19, an Israeli was approaching the summit of Mount Everest. So close to scaling the world's tallest mountain, he was just 250 metres from the peak. 

He climbed along the icy ridge near the summit battling bitter -40 degree celsius temperatures and howling 200-kilometre winds. Yet he moved quickly, the peak finally within his sight. Not only would he realize a dream, but at 24, he was soon become the youngest Israeli on record to scale the heights of the world’s tallest mountain, standing at 8,848 metres high.

Peering through blasting snow, he saw a bundle on the trail clipped to a climbing rope. Stiff and covered in ice, he soon realized it was a body. He checked for vital signs. Nothing. As he trudged up, he saw another body. He then came across a third person sprawled across the icy ridge: frozen, pummeled by icy winds, gloveless fingers blackened by frostbite.

The climber looked closer and recognized this man from base camp. Upon examining him, he realized his friend had no oxygen. He was semi-conscious but still alive.

Other exhausted climbers trudged by in silence, walking blindly around the bodies as if they were mere clumps of snow. Reaching the summit was their singular desire burning in an icy world.

But this young climber had another desire and he acted quickly. He hoisted the semi-conscious man over his shoulders, navigating the treacherous descent with the extra weight. In order to hold him securely, he threw off his own gloves, exposing his fingers to the biting cold. He trudged like this for eight hours. He too had no oxygen and felt light-headed, faint. He wanted to fall, let go, sink into the snow, yet he continued on until he reached Camp IV. 

Upon arriving, he and his companion were airlifted to hospital. They both lived.

Our young hero is Nadav Ben-Yehuda, a young Israeli who finished the army just two years ago and who dreamed of climbing Everest. He had trained for two years to prepare for this moment. But for Nadav, when faced with this situation, there was no dilemma, no question at all: he had to save Aydin Irmak’s life.

Unlike Nadav, Aydin had made it to the top. Near the summit, Aydin patiently waited for the raging winds to cease, then stood alone on the top of the world, five minutes of victory. However, while climbing back down, his oxygen ran out and he fell in a stupor into the snow. The next thing he remembered was hearing Nadav’s voice, gently probing. “Aydin, Aydin, are you there?” 

Aydin wanted to give his Everest certificate to Nadav but the authorities would not permit him.

The two will remain lifelong friends. One is Israeli and the other is Turkish. And although relations between Israel and Turkey are cold, this Everest adventure is heart-warming.

It says in Mishnah Sanhedrin, "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."  For Nadav Ben-Yehuda, this knowledge was so ingrained in his soul, he did not think twice. And he rushed to save a world.