I wait with eager anticipation, staring at a blank movie screen at the Toronto International Film Festival, waiting to see the documentary Sherpa. I think I know the story. I think I know about the 2014 avalanche on Chomolungma (aka Mt. Everest) that killed 16 Sherpa. I think “Sherpa” is just another word for a mountain guide.
How wrong I was!
(all photos courtesy Felix Media)
Over the next 96 minutes Director Jen Peedom will take me on a heartbreaking and incredible journey that will teach me that the Sherpa are a Nepalise people with a delicate and spiritually inspiring lifestyle. I will be reminded of Tenzing Norgay’s amazing first summit of Chomolungma with Edmund Hillary and the subsequent injustices. I will mediate on topics like exploitation, cultural appropriation, the majesty of nature, death, and my own life.
As I watch, Sherpa after Sherpa string heavy loads of materials up to various camps along Everest. They haul oxygen, food, and even materials to build huts, all for the climbers who will summit thanks to their efforts. As I think about their strength, spirituality, and incredible attitudes, my heart swells. As the family of the main character of the film (Phurba Tashi Sherpa) describe their fears and plead with Phurba not to climb, tears stream down my face. Now, as I write this article, I hold back the tears just so I can get words onto the screen.
What Jen Peedom managed to capture was a deep understanding the Sherpa already know about the mountain. Daily, the Sherpa talk about not upsetting the mountain. Their village is filed with shrines and prayer wheels. They pray before climbs and during, burring plants and smudging themselves as ritual. I believe they do all of this because they understand the majesty of Chomolungma and other mountains. They recognize they are but only one part of this symbiotic relationship.
This attitude and understanding is one I am firmly believe in and one I am constantly trying to engrain in my journey. I believe, like the Sherpa (and many others) that nature demands our respect and that a lack of this respect can result in imbalances. Watching Sherpa I felt small and powerless. I also felt a great pull and a call, one that said, “challenge yourself in ways that will demand humility.”
My thoughts and prayers are with the Sherpa, the Nepalise, everyone who was affected by the tragedies in Nepal and Chomolungma and everyone who respectfully dares to go on adventure and in the hope of finding themselves.