This morning, I sat with a group of parent friends at the coffee shop after school drop-off listening to our good friend Eric recounting his heart-wrenching experiences at Mt. Everest’s Base Camp in Nepal. He had gone with his best friend Tom and a team of filmmakers to shoot a documentary about the evolution of Base Camp from a remote outpost to a small tent city busy with climbers from all over the world. Eric had finished his part of the filming, had made his way back to Kathmandu Airport, and was just about to book himself on a flight home when the earthquake struck. Though he was unhurt, he soon learned the tragic news that his friend Tom had been killed when the devastating avalanche tore through Base Camp. Determined to retrieve Tom’s body, Eric made his way back up to Base Camp with a Nepalese helicopter crew, and a day or so later came back with his friend in a bag by his side. While arranging for a Buddhist cremation and ceremony for him, he witnessed death, destruction and chaos in every direction in the aftermath of the quake. He also experienced incredible kindness shown to him by strangers in Nepal, people who often didn’t have much themselves, yet went out of their way to make this American stranger a cup of tea or give him a place to sleep.
No one can come home from such an experience unchanged. Eric, the most intrepid of all my friends for sure, is used to taking risks, like riding dirt bikes, hiking for days under grueling conditions with the toughest of athletes, and taking photographs high atop rugged mountains. A talented photographer who has shot some of the world’s most spectacular scenery (http://www.epop.com), he has never been one to shy away from danger. But what he experienced in the past week or so has been beyond scary and dangerous, and the feelings he has brought back with him are more complex than his friends back home can truly understand. Happy to see my friend back safely today but saddened by his heart-breaking loss, I wanted to give him something that might be relevant to his experience and perhaps somehow help him get through this painful time. I chose a string of Buddhist prayer beads that I was given in Japan over 20 years ago. I don’t know if Eric ever prays to any higher being, but perhaps the beads will be comforting if he feels the need to seek answers or consolation somewhere beyond this realm.