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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sometimes You Just Have to Do What Has to Be Done

Aron Ralston, author of Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I watched 127 Hours the other night with Kat and Sandie (Zaftig Delights/Knitzy Blonde) and Sandie's grandson, Charlie.  Kat and I had seen this movie in the theatre when it first came out and I vowed never to watch the dvd, it was that heart-wrenching (and I'm not a glutton for punishment).  Well, funny things happen sometimes and we do what we said we'd never do.  I picked Kat up from her visit at Sandie's and guess what they were watching.  Yep.  127 Hours.  Goodness me.  What to do, what to do?  Well, happy to get to hang out with these two people whom I hadn't seen in way too long, I gritted my teeth, got ready to shield my eyes and my heart, and settled in to join them.  

In case you haven't heard the story or read the book or seen the movie, Aron Ralston is an adventurer who went hiking one day in the canyons of Utah in 2003.  Alone.  Without telling anyone where he was going.  Without leaving a note on his kitchen counter with a map and a photo of his destination.  Without updating his MySpace status (okay, I don't know if he even had a MySpace but you can see how it would've been a good idea, right?).  Anyway, you can see where this is heading.  What's that about Murphy's Law again...?  

Aron was having a great time hiking in the wilderness, enjoying his peaceful solitude, communing with nature, when he suddenly found himself in the bottom of a slot canyon, with his hand literally stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Now, I'd heard that phrase many times over the course of my life -- "stuck between a rock and a hard place" -- and I'd always known that it meant one was in a seemingly no-win situation.  I had even felt as though I had been there, done that, and could therefore relate to others who were in dire straits.  But when Aron's story came to light, I realized that I had NO IDEA exactly what that phrase meant -- really, really meant -- for the person in the situation.

It seems that Aron had been hiking this slot canyon (Blue John Canyon in Utah) and was maneuvering his way over and under boulders of various sizes when he decided to use one of them as a sort of stepping stone to the bottom of the canyon.  He tested the stability of the boulder and, satisfied that it wasn't going anywhere, stepped on it.  He climbed over it and was just letting himself down the other side when suddenly the boulder shifted and fell.  At the bottom, finding himself below the falling boulder, Aron instinctively put up his hands and jumped backward in an effort to 1) shield his face and head and 2) get the heck out of the way.  Unfortunately for Aron, the boulder caught his right hand and wedged it against the canyon wall.  OUCH.  Fortunately for Aron, he was otherwise unhurt.  He would make it out okay and have a pretty cool story to tell.  If he could just get his hand unstuck.

James Franco portrays Aron Ralston in the movie, 127 Hours

But Aron couldn't get his hand out.  He tried everything.  Nothing worked.  After spending almost a week alone in that canyon, knowing that rescue was a huge long shot considering no one knew where he was and probably wouldn't even notice he was gone for days, his stuck hand having died and beginning to decompose while still attached to his arm, mulling over his limited options and having run out of food and water, Aron did the unthinkable.  He cut off his own arm.  With a dull pocketknife (which was dull from hacking away at the boulder in an effort to get free -- amputation was definitely NOT his first choice).  With no anesthesia.  Without the presence of kind doctors and nurses who could give him pain meds as needed.  Without benefit of a med school education, specializing in amputation.  Nothing.  No one.  Just Aron.  In a canyon hundreds of feet below the surface.  Near death.  Doing what had to be done if he was going to have even a slim chance of survival.

The multi-use knife Aron used in his amputation

After an hour of excruciatingly difficult self-surgery, Aron was successful.  He fell away from the boulder and hiked out of the canyon, leaving his hand behind.  He and his mom later related how she had been praying fervently for him to hang in there and not give up because people were looking for him (they finally realized he was missing and figured out where he might have gone, thanks to a friend who remembered him mentioning in passing that he wanted to hike the Utah canyons one day) exactly at the moment when he was doing his gruesome work.  Wow.  Talk about coincidence.  If you believe in those.  I believe it was a GOD-incidence.  God had a plan for Aron.  What Aron had to do was make it out of there to fulfill that plan.  Now, before you start asking me if I think God PUT Aron in this situation, let me be clear about saying NO.  We all make our decisions, and we all do whatever it is we're going to do.  But I believe that God can bring good out of every circumstance.  Mrs. Ralston's prayers and those of the people she enlisted to pray for her son did not fall on deaf ears.  God heard and answered His people.  

The Ralston family

Aron felt as though he was all alone down in that canyon.  But he wasn't.  His mom was there, his family and friends were there -- a reality that was portrayed beautifully in the film -- and God was there. Aron received the strength to do what he thought he couldn't do.  He dug down deep into himself and pulled out the grit that it took to cut off his arm and get back to LIFE.  He did his work and got back to the surface no matter what it took.  And now he travels the world, sharing his story of determination and winning against all odds, inspiring others -- like me -- to never give up no matter what life throws at them.

Aron continues to climb, moving onward and upward

Looking at my own life in light of this young man's experience, I can honestly say that NOTHING I have lived through has been so harrowing or required such determination and difficult decision-making as literally cutting off my right arm.  But I have been in dire straits, when there seemed to be no "good" choices.  I've learned (and am still learning) to take the hard road and look ahead toward life, leaving parts of myself behind when necessary in order to survive, and not only to survive but to LIVE -- to enjoy the life that God has given me and keep moving toward the horizon.  

Christmas 1999; shortly before my own "canyon and boulder"  experience

My family fell apart 11 years ago in April.  My kids' dad left after 11 years of marriage, taking our eldest daughter to live with him six months later, and our second eldest daughter six months after that.  Left with the two younger kids, no job, no house, no car, and no prospects, I definitely felt like I was between a rock and a hard place.  For the last 11 years, through many difficult decisions and countless moves, I've been hacking away at that arm of mine that was stuck behind the boulder.  Many times, I've felt alone and unenthusiastic to do what needed to be done -- I wanted to hang on to parts of my life that were essentially dead and decaying, just because they were part of ME.  

Celebrating Ricky's 21st birthday last summer

Cake popping (you were wondering what any of this had to with cake pops, weren't you?) is me finally getting free of the boulder and the canyon and hiking toward the sunshine.  With every business accomplishment and every new client, with every cake pop we make to eat or to sell or to donate, I am ecstatic that I'm once again basking in the sunlight, by the grace of God -- no longer down in that canyon feeling stuck and alone.  Life is GOOD!  And it's getting better!  And I gotta say, it was worth my cutting off my arm to be here.

~ Pia


  1. What a great story, Pia! Very inspiring. While I am not a religious person, but I completely 'get' what you are saying. You are basking in sunlight and it seems that, with a thriving business, you have much brightness to look forward to in the future. Best wishes to you!

  2. Thanks, Melissa! How was your trip?