Ralston faced a (literally) paralyzing situation with limited options, yet when he reached deep inside himself, he found the answer. He had to amputate his own arm. Without anesthesia. Which, eventually, he did. The film is agonizing on the one hand, and amazingly uplifting on the other.
What struck me was how Ralston finally found the strength to do what he had to do, alone, without anyone to ask for advise or assistance. He did two things. First, he assessed his resources. There’s a scene where he finally stops struggling uselessly to pull his arm free, and methodically goes through his backpack to see what tools he has at his disposal. Everything he needs to extricate himself is already there. A certain amount of water, ropes, carabiners, a bit of food, a knife. A dull knife. These may have appeared grossly inadequate. But they were all he had to work with. He wasn’t going to get anything else.
Second, he spent a lot of time (as you might expect) going inward. He dreamed about his family, he replayed scenes from his past, he realized how many mistakes he had made, he cried, he laughed, he videotaped farewell messages. He became delirious. Eventually, he had what he calls a “vision.” Of a small child. His own, yet to be born, son. In that vision, he found the will to live. And his mind became clear.
Finally, the time arrived. In one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I have ever witnessed, Ralston (well, James Franco) ties off his upper arm with a tourniquet, hesitates for just a moment, and plunges the tip of the blunt knife into his forearm. Five minutes later, he’s free. After 127 hours. I confess, I cried.
Maybe it’s a stretch, but I think of Ralston’s dilemma as the issue or question that brings us to Lectio Poetica. We need to find our way home, our way forward, in some situation that truly baffles us. We decide what that is, and focus on it.
The poem we contemplate, like Ralston’s backpack, has a number of items for us to consider in our quest for an answer, for guidance, for direction. We might use all of them, but one in particular—in this case, the knife—represents the solution. In carefully listening to a poem, going through it with care and concentration, we notice what “shimmers” for us.
Watching “127 Hours,” you cannot help but notice the knife. It shimmers. At first, you may not understand what it means when a word or phrase or line or stanza of a poem arrests your attention. But you stay with it. See what develops. It may not be pretty. But it may be just what you need.
Somewhere along the way, after meditating and reflecting, journaling and sharing—just as Ralston dreamed and talked out loud to himself, and videotaped messages to his loved ones—if we’re really paying attention, we may discover how to extricate ourselves, or just take care of ourselves, or whatever it is we’re looking for.
Eventually, like Ralston, our ideas and inner explorations begin to form themselves into a potential plan of action—or as we say in Lectio Poetica, some way of “embodying” or “incarnating” our insights.
The only way this process can work is if we learn a radical trust in what we discover within ourselves. If we travel the Mobius strip inward . . . and back out again. If we listen with the heart, welcome the head, and engage the body. In other words, if we commit our whole selves to the process.
Think of a poem as a backpack. Filled with possibilities. What might happen if you open it up and look inside?
- Jay E. Valusek