When George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he famously answered, “Because it is there.” But in a personal letter to his wife, Ruth, he revealed even more about what drove him to climb the mountain. “Dearest, you must know that the spur to do my best is you and you again…I want more than anything to prove worthy of you.” Certainly George’s legacy proved worthy of history’s remembrance. But George’s son, John, wrote something about this too. Proud, but sad, John wrote, “I would so much rather have known my father than to have grown up in the shadow of a legend, a hero, as some people perceive him to be.”
The answer George gave concerning his motives have confronted my own. The mountain “was there,” but so was John, George’s son. The mountain brought a sense of joy and gave a sense of striving for the purpose of life too. Climbing the mountain enabled George to prove worthy of his family. But so would have loving and providing for his family in the ordinary routines of a long life, day upon day. So why did George choose to engage the challenges of the mountain but not the living room?
Why did George Mallory choose the mountain when he understood that it might take his life? Why was Mallory’s pursuit of joy, the meaning of life, the worthiness of family, and the loyalty to complete a task connected more with climbing a mountain than with daily routines of love and life, work and play, in community at home?