Think Of Life Like Climbing Everest…And Surviving It.

Monica Kalozdi is a New Orleans resident with a passion for climbing mountains. Ten years ago, after the birth of her third child, she came out of the experience with a yen to mountain-climb. Hey, I’m a husband who has gone through childbirth with my wife twice; it does strange things to people. I can guarantee you, this lady is not the first mother to take a look at her crowded household with three needy children and want to run as far away as she can get. In Monica Kalozdi’s case, she started climbing hills and then mountains, and pretty soon she got ambitious. She would climb the highest mountains on the seven continents of the world.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune (Wednesday, July 13, 2005), Monica Kalozdi scaled Kilimanjaro in 2000, Aconcagua in South America in 2001, McKinley in 2003, and this Spring/Summer she reached Everest. That’s where the story lies and why I thought you would be as fascinated as I am.

For 55 days, she and her team lived in the frozen regions of Everest, eating dried food out of bags, living inside tents that were sometimes shredded by hurricane-strength winds. The story lies in the final 1500 feet of this 29,035 ft mountain. They call this the death zone. Monica says, “You’re exhausted. You feel your body giving out. You can’t see where you are stepping, and you know one misstep can kill you. You’re terrified to take another step because you know you could die. But you also know you can’t stop, because if you do, you’ll die.” Pretty terrifying, but it gets worse. “We knew we had not drunk enough water and hadn’t eaten any food. Those were mistakes.” She says, “It was the scariest, most terrifying thing I have ever experienced. It is a death zone.”

Just 1500 feet? A breeze, right? Monica says the path is not particularly steep, except for three places…where it’s straight up for anywhere from 50 to 200 feet. Sheer rock wall. Through snow and ice, the climbers walk with steel claws called crampons attached to their boots for traction. But in rock? Well, good luck. This is where people die.

Everest claimed six lives this season. The weird part is that those who died are still up there, lying where they fell. No one has time or strength to get the dead bodies down off the mountain. So climbers step over the bodies and the families back at home try to get some comfort in knowing their loved one died doing what he or she loved best. At least, that’s the theory.

At one crucial moment when a misstep would cause her death, Monica spotted the body of a Slovenian who had died two weeks earlier. “He was lying on his back, with his hands and legs in the air, like he was climbing. His eyes were open. He was just frozen where he fell. You had to step over him. Then you kept moving on. People just ignored him, like he wasn’t there.”

Like he wasn’t there. In the minds of the climbers, she points out, the fallen colleagues becomes a cipher. “If you die, you cease to exist in that fraternity. You are nothing. No one talks about you, no one even uses your name to refer to your body. You become ‘green jacket’ or ‘black boot’. Your name is never mentioned again.”

Monica says, “I think it’s a defense mechanism to keep from thinking what you are placing yourself in. But I think it’s very cold.” Eventually, she says, someone will roll the dead Slovenian off the mountain, “so climbers won’t have to look at him anymore.” She says, “We didn’t have the strength or the courage. We just kept climbing.”

When they arrived at the crest of Everest, “on top of the world,” they call it, there was no exhilaration. She felt nothing. “It was something other climbers had told me to expect,” she said. Part of the reason is that the big problem now facing the climbers is getting down off the mountain.

“Niney-nine percent of all deaths happen on the way down from the summit,” she said. Over the next four hours of descent, Monica found out why. “You’re exhausted,” she said, “and you can’t see where you’re stepping…you want it to end, but you can’t hurry. And you know you’re exhausted, and your mind might not be working correctly.”

“I wouldn’t do it again for a hundred million dollars,” she told her husband. She did not say what she planned to do about the remaining three mountains still on her list to be conquered.

Perhaps the most bizarre part of the experience was waiting for her at the base camp. There, they expected to rejoice and rest and perhaps celebrate. It was not to be.

The atmosphere was all wrong. The camp was filled with climbers who had failed to reach the summit. Some were fatigued, some were hurting, some ran out of supplies, but for whatever reason, these had stopped their climb and returned to base camp. Now, as Monica’s party returns, they come out of their tents to greet the conquerors. Monica said, “They would come over and congratulate us in a solemn way, and then shuffle away with sad faces.” She added, “No one parties at a wake.”

The word “mediocre” is the result of the union of two Latin words: “medi” meaning “halfway” and “ocris” meaning “mountain.” Mediocre literally means “halfway up the mountain.”

Freddie Arnold is a missionary of the North American Mission Board and my colleague, with his office just down the hall. After reading the Monica Kalozdi story, he thought of a parallel.

“We have mission groups come to New Orleans from churches all over America,” he said. “They will help us paint a church building and hold Bible schools in the parks and witness in the French Quarter. By the time they depart, they are sky high. They’ve had a great time and can’t wait to get home to share the experience.”

Freddie said, “I always caution them about what’s ahead. The people back at home have not been where you have, have not had the experiences you have had. They have been carrying on as usual. So don’t expect them to understand what you have been through and to be as excited for you as you are. It’s the people in your group who understand. You rejoice with one another.”

The question mountain climbers always face is “why?” Why go to so much trouble and risk your life for such a momentary achievement? The classic answer from Sir Edmund Hilary is, “Because it’s there.” But for most of us, that’s not good enough.

There has to be something in the human spirit that craves this kind of challenge, that needs to face these fears, that cries out for this kind of world-class accomplishment. I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, just a Baptist preacher, so I am out of my element trying to analyze the motives of these incredible people.

What I will say is this. Given a choice between having my tombstone read “He scaled the highest mountain in the world” or “He made a difference in the lives of a few people,” I’ll choose the latter. Some would say it’s not necessary to choose, that one can do both. Perhaps so.

I will not judge our local mountain climber, whom I know only from the newspaper article. But can I be blamed if I raise one little question about this avocation of hers: where are her children? I wonder if they would not prefer having her home in the evenings to tuck them in, read them a story, share their prayers, than to hear of her exploits on the other side of the world, no matter how dramatic or historic.

And the same with daddies. I once resigned from membership as a trustee of our denomination’s International Mission Board and canceled a trip to Japan and closed some out of town meetings I had planned to preach the following year, just to stay home with my family. Over the next few weeks, the denomination chose another trustee of the board, the missionary in Japan invited another American pastor to visit, and some churches chose other evangelists for their meetings. I left no hole anywhere. Except with my family when I was gone.

Those who devote themselves to raising their children, who stay with it day in and day out for the full twenty years or so–or even more, sometimes–are scaling their own mountains. And when it’s all said and done, they will have a lot more to show for it than a newspaper clipping. Or frostbite.

“God, give us mothers and dads who see theirs as the grandest challenge in the world. And if they insist on climbing mountains, may they wait till the kids are old enough and take them along. Amen.”

6 thoughts on “Think Of Life Like Climbing Everest…And Surviving It.

  1. Brother Joe,

    I hope you remember my father, Lee McMullin, from First Baptist Church in Kenner. You held his funeral several years ago. He passed away after a life of working for Western Electric, years of service at church, and friendship to people in the community. There were several times when he was younger that he had the opportunity to take a promotion or go on a different tangent that would have led him away from Kenner, but he stayed at his job until he retired, he kept serving at church until he couldn’t serve any more, and he remained friends until the end. I think he passed on to my brother and sister and to me the concept of appreciating the life that you have as much as any other experiences that may be available to you. We live in the plains and the valleys, not on the mountain top and it is good to appreciate the

    ministers, the teachers, the parents who stay here with us.

    William McMullin

  2. I had situation back in 1982 that was causing me a terrible problem at home and the Lord fixed it for me sure as can be. I was working for Chicago bridge & Iron Company. I had been working for them for 17 years by then. I loved the job, loved the people I worked with, loved the company etc. I was the poster boy for the company man. After I finished college, having gone at night for sereral years, I was placed on the company “Engineer Training Program”. This put me on the road working out of town on jobsites. At first it was easy. the job site was close to home and I drove about 70 miles each way everyday.

    However, my next assignment was in Pasgoula Mississippi. We lived in Birmingham. I left on Monday mornings about 1 AM and drove to Pasgoula. I would get home Friday night about 9 PM. I left my wife at home alone with a 14 year old boy to take care of plus her job plus the house plus all the bilss etc. I put up with this for 14 months. By then it was about to ruin my life and my marriage. I was just torn up inside. I made up my mind on the way down to Pasgoula one extra cold January monday morning that I was going to call my boss back in Birmingham that day and quite. I reasoned that I only had one wife and son, I could find another job.

    I was sitting in my field office nursing a cut of coffee trying to screw up the nerve to call the boss. I was probably 1 minute away from doing that when the phone rang. It was my boss. He said, and I remember this as some of the really important words in my life, “John, I need you back in the Birmingham office. You are promoted to the schedule coordinator for the southeast district. I need you here in the morning.”

    The Lord just saved my job. I was super cold and snowing back up in Alabama and I told my boss I would try but the radio said the roads were closed. I hung up the phone , told the Lord Thank You so much, called my wife with the news and left the job site. I packed my meger stuff from the one room I was renting into my car and off I went. It took me 12 hours to get there and there was only me and one lonely trucker out there talking to each other on the CB drining on frozen snow covered and closed roads but I made it.

    The welcome home hungs, kisses, and tears are burned into my memory. I voved to never let that happen to me again.

  3. Dr. McKeever,

    Our son, an Air Force pilot,was gone 200+ days a year until this year when he was assigned(at his request) to Columbus MS as an Instructor Pilot.He is more a family man than a pilot and realized how quickly his girls were growing up without him.Although now working 12+ hours a day as Flight Commander, he is home every night and weekends are definitely family time! We have seen such a bonding with the girls and their dad and we thank God that family is important to him! My husband and I always advise young people to give their children TIME (quantity and quality) for that is truly what they desire most!

    Thanks again for a great message!

    Claire Parlier

  4. I certainly have mixed feelings about this article.

    As a mother who has lived and breathed her children as they grew up, I can see where there are sometimes challenges that you feel compelled to accomplish in your lifetime on earth. God gives you those desires.

    But I also believe that you should be home more than away and to provide a stable – even if single parent – home.

    Accomplishing things for yourself can also enhance what you have to teach your children and even understand where they are coming from when they say “this is something I just have to do” and because you understand it, you stand by them and support them in their life adventures, just as the Lord does us – his children, of all ages.

    It rattled me to read the last 2 paragraphs of the article. I don’t believe parents should be absent from their children’s lives. I also think that you can be with your children everyday and still be an absent parent. God gives us opportunities – those opportunities are what teach us our life lessons. None of which should be a regret. It is up to us as God’s children to live and learn our lessons.

  5. Wow, Joe, you really hit the nail on the head–as you usually do. I think we all need to be reminded of just how important it is to invest that precious time with our families, because once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. Even though we don’t have any children (yet), Tara and I still try to make sure we’re saving time for each other, and I attribute that time spent together as one of the reasons we feel pretty solid in our marriage.

    In my line of work as a high school choral director, most of the really successful directors are either 1) single, 2) divorced,

    3) gay or 4) very unhappily married. The time constraints and demands are so great that often times families suffer as a result. I know that happens in every profession but I see it particularly in this one.

    If I have the choice between having championship choirs or a happy, healthy family, I pick the latter. The world may think me strange but I would rather follow the LORD’s example and plan.

    Thanks for a great story.


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