Climber John Griber gazes at the summit of Mount Everest at sunrise from 28,000 feet on the Southeast Ridge climbing route.

Thursday Thought: Garrison Keillor on Challenge, Risk, Failure …and Joy

Climber John Griber gazes at the summit of Mount Everest at sunrise from 28,000 feet on the Southeast Ridge climbing route.

Climber John Griber gazes at the summit of Mount Everest at sunrise from 28,000 feet on the Southeast Ridge climbing route.

He’s a bit of an odd duck, that Garrison Keillor…but one possessed with an  impressive amount of odd wisdom.

I generally catch bits and pieces of Prairie Home Companion on the weekends, but always try to make time to hear “The News from Lake Wobegon” as it rarely fails to make me laugh, and often succeeds in either inspiring or forcing me to rethink and look at life and the world in a new light, with a different perspective.

A few weeks back, I heard “The News” while doing some yard work, and wanted to blog about it immediately. But, with the launch of Challenge21, time got away from me.

So, much later – but no less poignant, I hope – is a bit from Garrison Keillor’s “New from Lake Wobegon” from April 2, 2011. In the piece, Garrison is speaking about Lent, and it’s meaning. While I don’t observe Lent per se, his thoughts and ideas did resonate with me regarding the question of why we do things that are tough, that challenge us, push us, and at times, perhaps, torment us? Because, in an indescribable way, they teach us.

It is often only through hardship, through challenge, risk, success…and failure…that we truly learn about our abilities and our inabilities. If we forever shy away from hardship and risk, from the hope of great success and the chance of great failure, then the question of our ability to reach great heights will always be an open one.

And, as Garrison aptly points out below, it is the process of risk – a process which often leads to ultimate failure – that gives us joy. And, in the words of George Mallory: “Joy is, after all, the end of life.”

So, to Garrison, for some words of wisdom:

Life is unfair. Things we expect to happen don’t. And, other things do.

A man spends $1000 on an expensive bow to go out deer hunting and he buys new gear and he soaks it in deer urine so deer won’t smell male smell, and he buys a little mountain tent and he goes out into the woods for three days looking for deer and he never even gets a good shot. And he comes home and his wife has hit a deer with her car…

A man goes spear fishing – he thinks this is going to be fun – and he goes out spear fishing for sturgeon. Nobody likes sturgeon, the taste of sturgeon is awful. But he spends all this time, all this money, to spear a sturgeon. And then you’ve got to smoke it…that’s the only way you can eat sturgeon. So, what are you tasting? You’re tasting smoke, you’re not tasting the fish. Meanwhile, you can go down to your store, and you can buy salmon, and you can bring that back, and put it out on the grill: 5 minutes on one side, 3 minutes on the other, drizzle it with olive oil…it’s beautiful. You don’t need to know anything about cooking to make beautiful salmon steak. A little pink in the middle, serve it up with a little dry white wine, it’s gorgeous.

But, the irony, the Christian irony, is that the man who goes deer hunting and does not get a deer, the man who goes spearing for sturgeon and gets one and doesn’t like it…they are blessed, in a mysterious way that is hard to explain…but worth trying for yourself.

In defeat, in failure, in suffering, is joy. That’s the irony of Lent.

And, once you’ve learned that…maybe you’re ready to die.

If you’d like to listen to Garrison’s words – and I recommend you do – please check out the mp3 below. Listen to the whole thing, or skip ahead to 11:10 to hear just the part I transcribed above.


News from Lake Wobegon, April 2, 2011


Enjoy, and don’t forget to take a little risk…you never know what joy it will bring!

Jake Norton is an Everest climber, guide, photographer, writer, and motivational speaker from Colorado.

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