The Sound of No Hands Clapping

Without some understanding of the climbing grade system, this next post will lose some of its significance, so I’ll quickly explain the system used to rate the difficulty of climbs. This is based on an explanation given to me by the guy who sold me my first set of climbing shoes.

Routes are rated from 5.1-5.15b. (It’s an open ended scale, but 5.15b’s the hardest thing that has been sent so far.) At the 5.10 grad routes start to get letters A-D, so 5.10a is easier than a 5.10d. People who climb periodically do 5.10’s. People who climb all the time send 5.11’s. Local heroes send 5.12’s. Semi-pro’s send 5.13’s. If you do 5.14’s you’re sponsored. Only a handful of people have ever sent a 5.15.

With that being said, I started projecting a 5.12c awhile ago in the gym. Projecting is the process of coming back to a route over and over, trying to get all the moves figured out. Projecting is the only way to do really hard climbs. The best sport climber in the world (a really interesting guy named Chris Sharma) will project a given line hundreds of times, sometimes over the space of several years. He’ll fall at a given spot more than a hundred times. Some of the stuff he has done really seems impossible. A few years ago he sent a line called Jumbo Love after projecting it for years. It was the first 5.15b in the world.

I was projecting a 5.12c in the gym and thought I was pretty tough for doing so. The hardest thing the gym holds is a 5.13b and only a guy who works there even tries it. I felt like I was catching up with the big kids as I projected my 12c.

The route was pretty nasty. It had a couple of huge rounded holds that were nearly impossible to hold on to. The easiest hold on the route (often called a rest hold) was still so big and slippery that most climbers couldn’t stay on it.

The crux, or the hardest part, of the climb involved balancing on one sparse foothold and the worst left hand I’ve ever used as you advance the right from one bad hand, to another bad hand, to a final hand on to a less than ideal hold at the absolute end of my reach. From there the climb moves through a section of large rounded hand holds best solved by jumping, or dyno-ing as climbers call it, twice to the finish. I must have fallen on the crux about 30 times and the finish almost as much.

It took me about a two weeks to string the whole route together, which really isn’t that much compared to Chris Sharma’s years of projecting. A couple of times I went to the gym it would be the only thing I climbed. One night I must have tried five or six times only to be shut down at the crux. I got frustrated and decided the route was too hard. I figured I’d find another project.

As we got ready for yoga I decided that I would give the route one last go. Somehow I squeaked my way through the two horrible hand holds and lunged for the less than ideal finish of the crux. To my utter astonishment my hand stuck. I got my feet set and prepared to jump my way through the chancy dyno finish. I made it.

As the belayer lowered me down, I looked around the busy gym, expecting applause and congratulations. I had sent one of the hardest routes in the gym. Where was the applause?

“Dude, I just sent this 12c.”

“That’s great man.”

No one cared. This route had been my first real project and after all those tries I had nailed it. But no one seemed to care.

In our culture we applaud the silliest things. We applaud speakers we haven’t listened to. We clap for musical numbers we have dozed during. We celebrate things that do not matter.

I’ve thought a lot about applause since that night and realized that the greatest things we do in life will not be met with the roar of a crowd or the clapping of hands. A hidden audience will not cheer out at the greatest parenting decision you ever make. There are no cheering fans for people giving money to the homeless. No applause sounds when you make a meaningful phone call to a friend.

Climbing a 12c is not all that impressive really. No sponsors have dialed my number yet. And they never will. What I do know, however, is there will be someone who applauds the meaningful, unsung accomplishments of my life. I know God is watching. He’s taking note of the times I help people with flat tires. He saw the mother and child I drove home during the snow storm. He even knows that I want to do good when there’s no opportunity.

He knows all of the things I’ve done that no one cheered for.

He’s seen all the things you have done that deserve applause. It’s okay to be unsung in this life. I have an abiding belief that God is easy to please. He will cheerfully reward us for all of the good we have done. I know he’s up there watching, waiting for us to come home and thank us for all the unrecognized good we’ve done.

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