Family Magazine

Getting Out of Your Grave When Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

By Sillymummy @silly_mummy

This week I went to listen to the man who cut his hand off for his loved ones. Which forces me to ask the following questions:

How long would it take you to make the life-changing decision? The one that decides whether you live or die?

How much are you willing to give up to see your loved ones one more time?

You would give an arm or a leg. Literally? Would you?

aron ralston rock and hard place
Left: Aron’s book tells of his near-fatal expedition. Right: Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) turns the story into a film with James Franco acting as Aron.

I sat in a theater among hundreds of professional men and women listening to American mountaineer Aron Ralston speak. I had no idea what he would say. Well, I kind of did. I knew the brief version his story and in my mind it went like this:

In April 2003, man goes exploring on his own in the Blue John Canyon in Utah. Man didn’t tell anyone where he was going. Man meets two strangers in the desert. Man chooses to continue on his own adventure after spending time with them. Man descends through a slot in the canyon. A boulder becomes loose and falls down from above him.

This week, though, Aron was telling me the story:

“In that moment I only had one instinct, to protect my skull,” Aron Ralston told the crowd this week.

“My right arm slipped … The next moment the rock is taken down… My right arm disappeared… between the boulder and the wall of the canyon!”

And similarly to what I knew, his story went on: Man stays there for 127 hours and during the whole time man knows no one would be looking for him. Man struggles to find a solution. During the final hours, man cuts hand off to escape death. He uses a multi-tool. Man frees self, travels down the slot one-handed for a further 20 metres to safety. Man attempts to hike back to his truck but is found and flown to safety. Man survives his ordeal.

Some of the people in the audience have seen the movie version, 127 HOURS, starring James Franco. Others – the mountaineers, hikers and explorers – have even read the book. I watched the movie trailer as soon I saw Aron’s name on the event flyer. I knew I was going there to listen to Aron himself tell the story. So I chose not to watch the movie yet. I waited, because I didn’t want a movie ‘based on’ his story to give me the wrong version. I didn’t read his book. I didn’t read articles. Nothing… other than the trailer.

This week, Aron’s storytelling session was the most intense, emotional hours I’ve had this year. Not only that, it was also a wake-up call and reminder. With his excellent storytelling skills, Aron would have affected every single person in the theater. The way he told his story was as if he was experiencing the events all over again.

I can only imagine what those who traveled all the way to Perth city from country WA or the desert would have felt. They live in the most isolated areas of Western Australia, areas where people could easily go missing without a trace. This story would have definitely been close to home for those who may have lost a relative:

“No one [was] looking for me… no one is gonna find me before i was a skeleton,” he told us.

The message that I took from Aron’s story is simple and something we should always remember. It is not a story about how to survive such ordeal. It’s not about how to deal with a situation where you have to cut off your arm or leg. It’s not about negotiating with the Greater Being or Spirit who’s looking after us. And it’s definitely not about how to climb rocks, survive the desert or finding yourself.

What I got from Aron’s story is this:

The decision he made was about family, the people he held close to his heart: his mum, dad and sister. With his video camera, he filmed his messages to them in case someone found it later. He asked the audience in which I sat — what would each of us say if they had to leave a final message before an unforseen event like this:

“What do you say, who to? Who’s on your tape? Whatever you answer is what’s most important in your life.”

This made me think a lot about what I would say, and who I would say it to on my tape, SMS or letter.

“I was standing in my grave,” he said.

“The best thing you can do is stop, think, observe and come up with some options.”

Aron told us about his three options to get out of his grave:

One – chip at the boulder. This could take weeks or months.

Two – use his rope to move the boulder. This failed, the rope was too flexible.

Three – cut his hand off. But how would he cut through his bones with the multi-tool which was not a sharp enough tool?

Coming to the decision – choosing life and family

Aron feared he would die there. He didn’t think he would last another night or day. There’s no way he could cut the bones. So he scratched his epitaph on the wall of the canyon next to him – his name, date of birth and date of death. It was the end… until the sun rose the next morning and he realised he was still there. Then he had an epiphany: use the force of his body to rotate his strapped arm so that his bones in that arm would snap. CRAAAAACK! Then he started to cut through.

Aron told us that another thing that pushed him to want to get out was a vision he had on his last night in the canyon. I think he was a bit delirious when it happened. He had a vision of a small boy with blue eyes and blond hair who called him dad. In his vision there was so much love between him and that little boy, and when Aron saw his future child he wanted that future. This, together with the love for his family, Aron got the motivation to finally get out of this mess. I should add that last on, much later on in 2010, Aron and his wife had a child with blond hair and blue eyes.

Leaving something behind but gaining life back

Before he cut off his hand, Aron thought about how it would change him. But his thinking was initially about physical change. He won’t have his hand anymore. Then he started to think:

“How am I going to change?”

Was he going to continue to take life for granted? Was he going to change? What is he going to do? How would he change if he were to get his life back?

And so Aron cut through his skin and flesh, and use his body and the boulder to snap his bones.

And just like that, after so many hours of suffering through cold nights, drinking his own urine, dehydration and all… he finally did it.

“[I got to] step out of my grave and into my life again.”

“I left something behind… [but] I didn’t lose anything.”

“[Life], was the first gift that boulder gave me.”

“What I got from it – there is a force more powerful than the will to live… [it’s] love”

In his final message to the audience, Aron Ralston reminded us not to take things or people for granted, and to stop whinging about the littlest things:

“What constitutes a bad day?”

Yes, why do we complain about the small things in life? I thought, while listening.

“Did you have to drink your own urine today?” he continued.

He talked about people complaining about missing their flights, losing their luggage.

It’s a new day, live it… “do it, [live] for your loved ones.”

Step out of your grave and into your life again.

I totally recommend Aron Ralston as a motivational speaker.

So tell me: What do you say, who to? Who’s on your tape? 


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