Monday, November 20, 2006

Community and sadness

It's been a bad day.

We are all part of different communities, some by happenstance and some by choice. One of my communities of choice is the British climbing community and today "we" lost two of "our own". Two young Aberdeen climbers were caught out in horrendous conditions and it seems forced to stay out overnight whilst descending after having done a route in Coire an t-Sneachda yesterday. They were found not far from Cairngorm ski centre this morning and flown to hospital in Inverness but both subsequently died. This played out all day on UKclimbing: from someone posting the first news reports, people realising who it probably was, a friend of the missing guys saying this morning how worried all the people in Aberdeen were, all of us posting best wishes from all corners of the country and indeed the world and locals to that area up-dating everyone with latest news from TV or radio. Early afternoon there was a burst of joy as the first news came through that they had been found, and then heartbreak to hear they subsequently died.

I don't know those who died, but I've climbed many time in Sneachda, bivvied in the snow round the back of the ski centre, and I've spent scared nights waiting for news of friends missing on the hill. Fortunately on those occasions we have had better news than the friends and families of these lads have had today. Condolences to all those effected, particularly the families who are likely to find this harder to deal with than climbing friends of the victims. And many many thanks to both the volunteer and the RAF mountain rescue teams who, yet again, did more than anyone could ask in that sort of weather to try and find them.

Benedict Anderson wrote in the early 80s a seminal book for modern sociology and political science called "Imagined Communities". He was writing about nations - that even in the smallest nation-states one person will not know all the other members of that nation, yet there is still that "we feeling" that makes a Finn know they have something in common with another Finn, or a Spaniard with a Spaniard. People from the same nation who have never met have a common identity, but this can only be imagined. Just because it is imagined doesn't mean it isn't important - as world history demonstrates the case is actually the opposite. But Anderson made a point valid beyond nation-states. I have never met those young men, yet I feel a horrible sadness tonight - for them, their families and their friends. I know what they were doing and why they did it and - whether real or imagined is besides the point - they were part of my community.


ed said...

Hi Toby - this is very well written. I followed this earlier in the week too and was also struck by how sad it made me. You crystalise exactly how I felt - and explain why I felt as I did - when people I only vaguely know (or don't know) have died in either the climbing or paragliding worlds. I remember when someone died when I was in the Alps w NeilS, and I first really felt the sadness of a death of someone with a 'common identity'. I've never seen that what that feeling is expressed with such clarity. Sad days.

ed said...

Toby - See my post here on pg death in France witnessed last year for same identify-with-community sort of thing:,,1585852,00.html

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