Amidst all the other catastrophes going on in the world, the death of free-soloing rock climber, Brad Parker, caught my attention. I'm not sure his death would have captured the digital spotlight with everything else going on except for one tragic tidbit. After all, people who climb rocks without ropes have a tendency to fall and, sometimes, die; and while devastating to family, friends and those close to him, I'm not sure normally this story would have made it out of his hometown of Sebastopol, California or the relatively small (now smaller) community of rock climbing enthusiasts. What catapulted Brad Parker's death to the top of the news wave is the marriage proposal he made just hours before his death.
Appropriately, the proposal Brad Parker made to his girlfriend, Jainee Dial, took place last Saturday on top of Cathedral Peak in the Yosemite National Park. According to the news stories I read, the two descended after the proposal was accepted, and Parker decided to climb nearby Matthes Crest. Flying high from earlier in the afternoon, at 5:45 PM, he fell to earth. His friend, Jerry Dodrill, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, "I have no idea what happened on that climb . . . I keep replaying what might have happened on what was supposed to be the best day of his life." There is something jarring in the realization that the best day of your life could actually be the last day of your life.
"We're all so stunned," his father, Bill Parker, was quoted as saying. "What happened is so unbelievable." But, is it? Because I didn't know him, frankly had no reason to even know about him prior to his death, the facts surrounding his death seemed completely tragic, yet, believable. At 36 years of age, I imagine Brad was nearing the end of his free-soloing career. The amount of strength, stamina, flexibility and agility required to haul a body up and over crags of rocks, boulders and vertical cliffs, with or without ropes, is, to me, a young man's game. Bill Parker said he thought fatigue "may have been a factor in the fall."
Maybe fatigue was a factor, maybe not. Maybe Brad got distracted thinking about the events of the day and miscalculated. Maybe the fall happened for no other reason than something that was supposed to be secure, gave way. And therein, I think, is another intriguing aspect about this story. Secure things are supposed to stay secure. Veteran rock climbers aren't supposed to fall on established routes they've successfully done before. People who have just made the decision to commit to a life with the one they love aren't supposed to lose that life the same day.
Supposed-to's are really the assumptions we use to get through the day. I know there's a saying that you're supposed to (there it is again) live each day like it's your last but I'm not sure most of us pull that off or even really want to because we'd have to spend day after day thinking about our own mortality (in some ways, I'm still resonating with Sadie's video from a few weeks ago). When one of those assumptions fails, that failure can cause our other assumptions to seem less secure. Our lives wobble just a bit.
I'm left with sadness at the loss of Brad Parker, for Bill Parker, for Jainee Dial, for Jerry Dodrill and all who knew him. His death has also caused me to pause and think about the assumptions in my own life that I think are secure. Assumptions may get us through the day but we need to be careful which ones we lean on. Which ones are truly rock-solid and which ones only seem to be? If I make a false move and start to fall, where's my next move going to be?