Thursday, December 3, 2009


Every family has their stories, if they didn’t there would be nothing to talk about during Christmas dinner.  These stories serve a much greater purpose than merely supplying stories to be told around the dinner table.  They give meaning, create identity, they change or uphold the way we look at things.  The complete list of purposes of family stories are too remember, to create identity, to entertain, to reinforce values, and to connect generations.  There are five types of stories that accomplish those purposes: Creation stories, coming of age stories, crisis stories, decision stories, family unity stories, and family identity stories.
            Family identity is passes from generation to generation through stories that usually begin with “My father once told me that his father once told him….” And then go on to give some account of the family history or name.  This one story can fill multiple roles it can entertain, it can connect generations, and create identity.

The Fall
One story that my family is particularly fond of telling is about a rock-climbing incident that occurred a little more than a four years ago.  I had been an avid rock climber since my freshman year of high school.  I owned my own equipment and had a membership at a local climbing gym.  I had a habit of occasionally taking girlfriends with me when I went climbing.  I did this partially because I enjoyed their company and partially because it was an opportunity for me to show off my climbing prowess, and the method had worked well for me until that fateful day. 
The day started off as normally as any other climbing day.  I woke up and had a good, but light, breakfast, gathered my gear, and set off to the gym to climb.  I stopped along the way to pick up my girlfriend at the time, who had been climbing with me several times before.  We planned to make a day of it, by climbing for a few hours before grabbing some lunch, and heading back to get a few more climbs in before closing time.  We arrived at the climbing gym around ten o’clock.
The gym was inside of a complex of four concrete silos.  The top of the silos was painted a rainbow of colors and had the words “General Electric” in big bold letters.  I am not entirely sure what purpose the building served before its days of as a gym, and was not entirely sure I cared.  The gym was separated into four parts.  There was the bouldering area, which consisted of hundreds of holds spread over a wall no taller than twenty feet, this was were people practiced and trained their grips for the various holds.  The next portions was the skill walls upstairs, these walls were not particularly tall at all, most averaged around 50 to 60 feet, but were the most difficult to climb in the whole gym.  Next was the novice area, these were easy walls that were a good place for beginners and were about another 20 feet taller than the skill walls.  The final area of the gym was the endurance walls.  These walls an intermediate level as far the spacing and size of the holds, but were difficult because of the sheer immensity of their size.  The walls averaged a height of 100 feet.  The tallest wall at the gym, which was actually the tallest indoor wall in Texas, was 121 feet high.  It was at this wall that my incident occurred.
My girlfriend was the first to attempt the “121 wall” that day.  I took my position as her “belayer” not even bothering to secure myself into the ground because I outweighed her by so much.  She proceeded to climb about ¾’s  of the wall before growing too weary to continue.  After slowly feeding the rope through the carabiner and belay device, which provided me the mechanical advantage to easily suspend her 130-pound frame using only my thumb and pinkie if needed, and allowing her to rappel down, it was my turn to climb.  We switched all the necessary equipment and double-checked all of our knots and harnesses to make sure they were correct, and then to be sure we checked one another’s.  After we were sure everything was in good order, I began my ascent.
The climb was not particularly difficult for me, for I had made it many times before.  At this point it had become a conditioning climb for me; it was a good way to make sure that I stayed in excellent rock climbing condition.  Because of the rehearsed ease with which I made this climb I did not require any rest of assistance from my belayer.  Fifteen minutes later I reached the top of the wall and was prepared to make my slow and controlled descent.
The trip down was much faster than I anticipated.  After I yelled down that I was ready to make my descent, my girlfriend took all the slack out of the rope so I could let go of the wall and lean back away from it.  I took my hands away and leaned back with no problem or incidence.  I then gave a firm kick with my legs to push myself away from the wall and allow my belayer to let some of the rope slip through the carabiner allowing me to drop.  She did allow some rope to slip through and after I dropped a few yards I expected the rope to go tight and for me to be forced back to the way, but this never happened.  I began to descend faster and faster, which was worrisome, but I was not truly scared until I heard my belayer scream.  I was picking up speed and the ground was screaming towards me now.  Apparently my belayer’s device had malfunctioned and was not longer giving her the advantage needed to control the descent of my 230lb. body.  The rope started to rush through her fingers burning them badly and forcing her to release the rope.  There was nothing stopping the rope now and, by extension, there was nothing stopping me.  The rope as it was being whipped up off the floor tripped my belayer sending her crashing to the ground were she was of no use to me.
I thought my life was over.  120 feet is a long way and I had plenty of time to think things over.  I had decided how I was going to land, what I wanted to go on my tombstone; everything had been thought of.  Then I hit.  I do no remember anything after that.  I woke up in a car on the way to the hospital.  I do not remember what happened at the hospital either.  My parents were informed that I had no serious damage to my back or any major organs, and that the extent of my damage was numerous stress fractures in my feet and legs.  They asked what happened and when my parents told them, the doctors said that I should be dead.
There is a reason that my parents like to tell that story.  They, and I, believe that it means there is a purpose for this family.  I heard that half of all falls from over thirty feet end up being fatal, but I fell from 120 feet and have almost no lasting damage.  There is an identity to be found in this story for me and for my family.  God miraculously allowed me to live when common sense would have dictated that I die.  I feel that he saved me for a purpose and that my family was allowed to continue to exist for a purpose.  That purpose is still not entirely known to me or my family, but we are all very conscious of the fact that we will one day know that purpose.  One day I will know why God chose to save me.  I am reminded of the identity that this story gives me every time that I hear or tell it.  The identity that this story gives me is, that I am a man saved by God, twice.        

1 comment:

Michael Chase Spain said...

I remember that day like it was yesterday *shudder*. I remember exactly where I was standing in my house when I got the call from either your mom or the girlfriend that you had been in an accident. I have that date marked on my perpetual calendar specifically to remind me both of what a Gift you are and to remind me of the vaporeal nature of this life. I am so thankful to God for saving you that day, Brooks, and agree with you: there is great purpose in your life. To whom much is given, much is required.