By Ben Lee
I woke up this morning thinking about a recent photo that I’d taken of my son, Maddie, and one of my climbing partners as they neared the end of the first pitch of our climb at Looking Glass. There is nothing “glamorous” about this particular photo; it didn’t make the cut onto my Instagram feed alongside the other pictures of breathtaking sunsets and victorious high fives, I had hesitated before releasing the shutter, and it remains a difficult one to look upon—Maddie’s tear-stained grimace is juxtaposed against Mike’s encouraging smile, and his fear and pain are palpable.
I find myself drawn back to this photograph time and time again, though, because of the way it captures the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of my climbing experience in a way that the summit photos can’t. And it challenges me to grow each time I relive the moment.
As someone who spends the majority of the typical “work week” suspended mid-air, oftentimes hanging off the tips of my fingers, and encourages my boys to do the same (when they’re not in school, of course), I’m frequently asked the same five questions. Much to my chagrin, sometimes the questions have a way of replaying in my head in the middle of an ascent:
Are you crazy?
Do you ever work?
Why do you engage in such risky behavior?
Haven’t you learned anything from your accident?
Aren’t you afraid you or the boys are going to get hurt?
In those moments, I often think: Probably. Sort of. Define risky. Yes. Aware of potential consequences? Of course.
I don’t mean to sound glib, nor are the questions irrelevant, but when I hear that internal dialogue beginning, I’ll repeat aloud: You are prepared. Remember why you’re here. You can do this. Just breathe and focus on the next move. These mantras keep me from becoming paralyzed by fear and making insecure, knee-jerk decisions because of what others might think.
I love the photograph of my son because it reminds me of the importance of embracing who and whose I am, as I climb— and simply in life. It encourages me to instill that truth in the lives of both my sons and those that I encounter. While taking pictures and sending (climber jargon for completing a route) are fun, they definitely aren’t everything. To be “enough,” I don’t need my kids to succeed, and I don’t need to create the perfect Instagram life for others to see. Neither do you.
It doesn’t matter if others believe we’re living authentically so long as we are. To do so is to claim our identity as sons and daughters, fashioned in the image of a loving God and Father.
So when I sit down to pack for my upcoming trip, you better believe I’ll be including my camera. As I head out the door, I’ll also be carrying the lesson that snapshots, while accurate, are just that—a fraction of the bigger story, one made up of creative, talented, and passionate people, each faced with daily choices of how they will live and overcome the hurdles they encounter.
I can’t marry my snapshots; I can’t touch, laugh, and cry with them. But what I can do is treasure every moment with the people and places in them. That picture from the side of Looking Glass could only capture so much, and it definitely could not tell the rest of the story: how incredibly thankful I am for the opportunity to encourage and invest in my sons and how proud I was that, pushing through numb, cold fingers and a fear of heights, Maddie sent.