Don’t rob yourself of the now: Timmy’s tribute to José as a balm for those who grieve

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My interview with climber, comedian, friend, and _____* Timmy O’Neill is now live on Xero Gravity, please check it out!

Timmy was a consistent presence during my Yosemite years, and he recently wrote a beautiful tribute to our late friend José, asking:

How do you bring someone long gone, back to life, and what are the physical and emotional artifacts that allow you to personify him?

I feel similarly trying to describe Timmy; *there are precious few words for describing those people who just vibrate at a higher level, even when they are still with us!

Timmy is funny, sure, but he’s also heartfelt, quite astute in his observations about human behavior, self-reflective, and clearly lives his life according to a set of values he’s considered very carefully. He’s super loyal to those he loves, and is quick to serve even those he doesn’t know personally (yet).

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[Photo (c) Dean Fidelman]

As excited as I am about how the entire podcast turned out, I was crushed that we had to cut out (so many technical difficulties, argh) the entire portion of the conversation where I had asked him about José, and how we might generally honor the dead, a question I’d been waiting to ask since I read these words:

The first of us to disappear, ahead of the curve even in death, I am sure he would want his absence to illuminate our presence and further dare us to have no fear and live as wildly as possible, now.

***

And then, a most horrifying tragedy: the Ghost Ship fire struck, leaving 36 more dead in the place where they gathered in Oakland for one more opportunity to connect through music and dancing.

Yet again, that question comes up: how can we honor the friends who are no longer with us, that ever-growing list that now includes Amanda and Johnny?

Since I can’t share the actual conversation Timmy and I had (serves me right for thinking that somehow publishing it would put this topic to rest for me), I’ve shared his tribute to José in full below.

Thanks, Timmy, for reminding us what José was teaching; this may ultimately be the same lesson that Amanda and Johnny brought before the fire, and do now still in their absence (and I paraphrase Timmy): do not confuse “you are here” with “this is you,” and remember that dancing with joyous abandon is another language with which to shout to the world, “don’t rob yourself of the now.”

Almost 15 year ago I disappeared deep into the Orinoco jungle for two weeks with Jose Pereyra, photographer Henry Gonzalez @tepuyero and host of other Venezuela "tepuyeros" along with the British big wall free-masters John and Anne Arran. We established a daring free line on Autana Tepuy over many days living aside the sheer wall. Jose was a dear friend, big brained with an even bigger heart, who left the world too early. Below is a remembrance, in two parts, for a new Venezuelan guide book. Part I: Jose Pereyra, one of Venezuela’s most accomplished rock climbers, fell to his death in El Portrero Chico, Mexico in 2003. How do you bring someone long gone, back to life, and what are the physical and emotional artifacts that allow you to personify him? Perhaps by recalling his stooped walk and stylish sunglasses that framed thoughtful dark eyes, below a disarming balding head. Or is it by evoking his philosophical discourse and the resonant playful laugh, emanating from oversized lips, that punctuated his mystifying views into the unknown. Or maybe it’s the memories of his deeds and thoughts that transform what was into what remains. Jose was a mystic and the first of the Yosemite Valley Stone Monkeys to utilize spirituality as an essential part of the ascent. His gentle soul informed us to be in the moment, not only by recognizing need and crisis but also by acting to relieve it. He was a man of few physical possessions, dressed in creases, and on a path of perpetual discovery. As one of climbing’s deepest thinkers, he pursued mathematics and enlightenment with the same gusto that he set world record speed climbs on El Capitan and established some of the hardest lines on Utah’s desert sandstone walls. 📷 @tepuyero

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Part II For Jose the physics of the outer world were a bridge to the intimate inner journey. The magnetism of infinitesimal particles being as curious and informative as the bonds that brought us all to such heights and risk. He would talk at length of these mysterious connections, whether in the shade of a towering pine or under the glorious lights of the Milky Way, continuing long past his audiences ability to comprehend. He seemed to already exist in the future, as if to prepare us for his early departure. He extolled the importance of embracing failure with the same readiness we celebrated our successes. A band of strivers, constantly battling the crux, as Jose the flow merchant, offered the freedom that resulted from letting go of expectations. He danced to techno music with joyous abandon utilizing another language with which to shout to the world, “don’t rob yourself of the now.” The ground and a stick became his tableau. After scratching a representation of the inseparable nature of life and death into the dust, he’d erase it with a bare foot and prepare the next of many lessons; Professor Dirt was always in session. On the map of life he did not confuse “you are here” as “this is you,” and told us of how the continuum of good and bad were indicators to help you navigate. He was our transcendent elder, gravity’s ambassador and he led the way with truth, humility and an intellectual capacity that rivaled his physical feats. The first of us to disappear, ahead of the curve even in death, I am sure he would want his absence to illuminate our presence and further dare us to have no fear and live as wildly as possible, now. 📷 @tepuyero #autanatepuy #josepereyra #venezuela #quantumclimber #viveJose #tepuyeros

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