A day after watching, “Free Solo” the Oscar winning documentary about Alex Honnold’s epic climb of El Capitan in Yosemite, I’m still brought to tears while reflecting on the man and the magnitude of the achievement. Besides being an athletic high water mark, it brings each of us closer to our own mortality and eventually the question of how we want to live our lives. Do we take the risk of living the challenging life we want, or do we settle for what is comfortable and safe? According to the film’s creator, Elizabeth Chai, “Alex lives every day of his life with intention. He’s doing exactly what he wants to do with his life”. This is a resounding confirmation of how Alex thinks and how I too would hope to live.
“(I’ve) worked on my climbing skills so much that my comfort zone is quite large. So these things that I’m doing that look pretty outrageous, to me they seem normal,” Honnold proposes. But what drives Alex and others to perform the countless hours of training it takes to master anything? How do we find the passion and dedication needed to take anything from good to great? These are personal questions which watching the movie forces the reflective viewer to confront.
In my 20’s I tried rock climbing for fun. I found it to be challenging, as it required me to use my whole body and every bit of strength was required to do the simplest of climbs. But I was not prepared to put in the time it takes to be a real climber. We cannot be great at everything. But it would be nice to be descent at something.
The film inspires me to look seriously at my activities and to ferret out what if anything I might master. My compass keeps returning to painting because this is the single activity (along with swimming) which I have embraced since I was a child where I both laugh and cry. The risk required to change an artwork from something good to something I can be proud of is real and frightening yet nothing compared to falling off a mountainside. We cannot all be like Alex, and that is okay. But we can all strive to find the path that makes us feel truly alive. Thank you Alex.