I only started rock climbing because my friend needed someone to go with…its next to impossible to rock climb alone. Even with an automatic belay (a contraption reminiscent of a medieval torture device) its just not as fun and frankly not as safe. Plus having a buddy means you have someone to talk with about how hot the other climbers are- basically a win win.
Even though I was roped into climbing (get it…roped in? I slay me) its actually been pretty fun, even though I’m not very good at it. It turns out that not only is climbing kinda cool, its also a perfect metaphor for medical school. Indulge me.
When I first started climbing I would get stuck and instantly want to be let down. My hands would get all sweaty and I couldn’t hold on. Coming down is easier—that way I wouldn’t risk slipping off and looking like an idiot dangling in midair. Good thing Sundip insisted I try at least one more time to grab back onto the wall. Lots of cussing was involved, but at her insistence (and refusal to lower me down) I always tried at least once more.
Now that I have been climbing more often, when I get stuck or slip, I try to get back—because I know that a 90 pound Indian girl will beat the crap out of me if I don’t. And because I know she believes I can. I know what she would say, because she’s said it so many times before, “you got this, try again, you can do it.” She also tells me that my ass looks sexy from the ground—what a pal.
The challenges of rock climbing also extend to the person holding the rope. Even with the system of pulleys, which mitigates the persons body weight (you know physics and crap) it still takes effort to hold onto the rope and not drop the person. Try holding a certain Navy Seal 150 feet off the ground and you’ll know what I mean.
When I feel the sting of the rope against my hands and my arms ache, I remind myself I am lifting that person up. Physically the rope I am holding is pulling on their harness a little bit—but I’m lifting them up in other ways too. I never take my focus away from the person climbing. If I were to look away, even for a few seconds they could fall and get hurt.
It’s a rare thing in our day to day that we give someone else our undivided attention. I’m trying to be better about giving my full attention to others—not just those who I have suspended up by a nylon cable, but everyone I talk to. Its tempting to cut conversations short, to look at my phone or to interject about my own life. Rock climbing reminds me what showing someone undivided attention looks like, and how important it is.
Some of our classmates have faced some very difficult things in their lives as of late. We must hold them up. Our actions, our words, our demonstrations of love towards them—like a harness wrapping around them, we shall lift them and hold a little bit of the weight of the burdens they must carry. We can’t climb the wall for them, but we can encourage them from the ground, show them our love and do what we can to hold them tight.
When I see the selfless actions of all of you --my beautiful classmates, it is comforting and reassuring that should any of us stumble, we will be suspended in light and love and held there until our tired arms feel strong enough to hold the burdens in front of us once again.
Holding each other up is not only important when scaling a rock wall—its vital to getting through medical school. I wish I didn’t need other people’s help. I wish I could float through life, never needing to ask for favors or advice or pep talks or forgiveness. But the truth is that I can’t. I need lots and lots of help and I need it most when I am least worthy of it. I think there is an unspoken rule that we should be able to do this alone, and that’s just not true. No one is successful alone, no one does medical school alone and no one rock climbs alone.
If you’ve ever been climbing or watched other people do it, then you’ve probably noticed there is a little exchange between the person climbing and the person belaying before any rock climbing actually happens. It goes like this…
Climber: “Belayer ready?”
Belayer: “Climb on.”
Not only do I think it sounds super cool to know the lingo, these words have come to mean more to me than just asking the other person if they plan on dropping you. Its like a little promise you make aloud to that person. “I’ll keep you safe,” “You can trust me,” “I believe in you.” We don’t often say these things out loud to each other, and so these words have become sacred in my mind. I promise to catch you, to hold you up, to not let go.
I wish you all the most wonderful year. Be fearless in reaching your goals and throw yourself yet again into learning. You will not fall, because we are holding you. Climb On.