Tales of Fear, Tragedy, & Triumph

By: Stephanie Banat

(From “Chaos at the Top of the World”, gq.com.)

Unique articles by authors Kurt Streeter, Bryan Borough, and Joshua Hammer embody themes of fear, perseverance, tragedy, triumph, and lastly, ethical questions and decisions. Each story also describes the achieving of a goal — beginning at the bottom, so to speak (or in the case of Hammer’s story, literally) and ending at the top.

Streeter’s NY Times Article, “Which way America? Which way Richmond?”, opens with him confronting his fears while visiting Richmond, Virginia. He describes feeling overwhelmed with fear while coming face to face with confederate statue of general StoneWall Jackson. As an African American man, this statue was a painful reminder of the history of slavery and oppression that his ancestors endured.

Streeter goes on to reccount the racist hisory of Richmond, Virginia — the Civil War Capital of the Confederacy. In this city, he drove past shrines to generals who fought for slavery, a former slave jail, slave burial grounds, and a market where thousands of African Americans were sold.

As a tennis player, Streeter had always been inspired by his role model, Arthur Ashe, the first African American on the United States Davis Cup team and the only black man to win singles championship at Wimbledon, at the Australian Open, and at the United States Open.

While Ashe was growing up in Richmond, he was barred from playing tennis at certain courts, such as Bryd Park, due to the Jim Crow laws. Segregation in sports is something that sounds so strange in 2021, but something that was part of normal life up until the 1960s.

By the end of Streeter’s article, the town of Richmond, Virginia achieved real change. An ethical decision was made by Richmond’s mayor and the City Hall council to rename a major boulevard in the name of African American hero, Arthur Ashe.

When suggested by Ashe’s nephew, David Harris, in the 1990s and 2003, the idea for this name change was initially rejected by Richmond’s government. However, in 2019, Harris pushed for this change again.

Many white residents opposed the idea, making weak excuses. But this time, Richmond’s African American mayor put his foot down in the name of justice. He explained that in order to have an all inclusive community, they could not continue to “kick the can down the road.” (Streeter, 2).

At the final part of the story, Streeter and Harris go to play tennis at Byrd Park, where Ashe had been barred from playing during his youth. Now, there were men, women, and children, of a rainbow of races, hitting tennis balls.

Streeter shed a tear of joy. Triumph, at last. America was finally taking a step in the right direction.

Burough’s story, “Shooting a Tiger”, is also a tale of tragedy and triumph, in which major moral questions come in to play.

For just about the entire 20th century, there was a long-standing debate about what to do with man-eating tigers in India. While the killing of tigers had been outlawed in 1972 by Indira Gandhi, by 2014, the number of people killed by tigers in one year rose to 92 and many began to reconsider whether killing the man-eating tigers was the only option.

One particular tigress, labeled T-27, was responsible for the mutilation of 13 human bodies during 2017. The chase for her became India’s most controversial tiger hunt ever.

Hunters wanted to kill the tigress. Environmentalists and vetrinarians wanted to save her. Villagers, some of which had been killed by her while going out to work in the fields, just wanted the tigress gone — whether dead or alive.

The environmentalists argued that humanity is the only real threat to nature, that we humans had taken over the tigers’ space and prey that they needed to survive, and that the tigers only attack people because people have caused them desperation.

While all of this may be true, it still didn’t change the fact that the tigress was dangerous and was destroying human lives. Doctors and environmentalists involved in the chase agreed that this was a problem, but argued that killing was not the solution and that instead, they could capture the tigress, tranquilize her and relocate her to somewhere safe.

Hunters, however, argued that capturing her would not be possible given the speed, strength, and ferocious nature of the tigress. The hunters knew much more about the nature and behavior of wild animals, and were willing to search for her late at night while she was more likely to be out, unlike the environmentalists who only searched during the day.

After about two years of failed attempts to capture her, it started to seem apparent that the hunters had a more realistic view of the issue. Had the environmentalists not kept saving this tigress, while half of the country wanted her dead, half of the humans she killed would have still been alive.

At the end of the story, it came down to a car full of five hunters, followed by a car full of environmentalists, traveling late at night on a country road deep in central India where they came face to face with the man-eating tigress. Finally close enough, the environmentalists shot at the tigress with their tranquilizing gun but she simply snarled and continued moving across the road.

In a split second, the tigress had come right beside the window of the hunters’ vehicle. The hunter in the passenger’s seat, who had never killed an animal like this and was extremely scared to do so, said that if he hadn’t acted fast in that moment and shot the tiger despite his nerves, his team would’ve died. So, he pulled the trigger of his rifle and finally, the man-eater was defeated.

Although many people viewed this tigress killing as a tragedy, it was actually more of a triumph, because it protected human lives. The real tragedy in this story was the death of the human beings — mothers, fathers and grandparents, that were trying to make ends meet working in the fields and instead were killed by tigers.

While preserving animals and wild life is surely important, as humans, our first moral obligation is to our fellow humans. Like the other stories of triumph discussed here, this victory came from overcoming fears and persevering in the face of adversity.

This story could have been enhanced by the addition of videos of the various groups sharing their opposing views on what to do with the tiger and how they felt about the killing. The whole world seemed to be watching and commenting on this situation, so perhaps, some short clips of people talking about it could have provided some additional insights.

The third story by Hammer is perhaps the most prominent example of tragedy, triumph, and persevering through one’s fears— as these elements are the most tangible in this story. In “Chaos at the Top of the World”, a man named Grubhofer and his climbing partner joined a group of about 100 climbers to make the summit to Mount Everest.

What they didn’t know was that they were entering into one of the deadliest seasons on Mount Everest in history. While people die every year on Mount Everest, this particular 3-day window of good weather during May 2019 was most fatal. 11 people died during this summit.

Due to the fact that the good weather window was so narrow, unlike usual, everyone rushed to climb everest within the same few days. This overcrowding became deadly, as single file lines of people formed around the mountain, creating hours of delays, including on their way back down.

These delays caused many people to fall ill, and some to die. Climbers were facing temperatures that drop far below 0 Celsius as they approached the peak, which reaches 29,029 feet above sea level. The longer a person stays at this height, the higher their chance is of succumbing to high altitude sickness and exhaustion.

At the root of this story, the cause of all these deaths, was a question of ethics. Was it morally right that these people were permitted to climb Mount Everest? The answer was no.

This exposed an ugly side of human nature — a side that puts a dollar sign on human lives. People who were not physically fit, had underlying health conditions, were too old, or had never climbed a mountain more than 6,000 feet before, were being advised to climb the world’s highest mountain.

Climbing Everest had become too much of a commercial enterprise. Cheap companies were hiring inexperienced guides to lead inexperienced climbers up the mountain. Risking their lives to make a profit.

However, in the face of all this adversity, Grubhofer perservered and gained victory at last.

Grubhofer had to overcome not only the fear of freezing, suffocating, or falling to his death, but also the frightening sight of multiple dead bodies on the grounds around him, some of which had seemed to have been there for years — a disturbing concept. He also had to overcome the loss of his climbing partner and good friend, Landgraf.

Grubhofer endured his own near-death experience while making the summit as well. He had stopped at a camp to sleep for a bit and accidentally opened his oxygen valve while sleeping. When he woke up, his tank was empty and he nearly suffocated to death.

It was only by luck that he caught the attention of his sherpa far away with a flashlight, and the sherpa came to his rescue with oxygen.

Despite his own setbacks and all of the tragedies taking place around him, Grubhofer reached triumph at last — he made it to the top of the mountain and back down in one piece.

The sense of accomplishment that he felt from this was unmatched and irreplaceable. “I cannot go anywhere without being the one who has just done Everest,” he said aftweards with a smile. Reaching the top of the world offers unique bragging rights, he explained, something that he thinks will never go away.

Even the families of the fallen soldiers who didn’t make it off the mountain shared a similar sentiment regarding this epic achievement. “He saw his last sunrise from the highest peak on Earth…he passed away doing what he loved the most,” said the family of Christopher Kulish, a victim who perished on his way down after reaching the top.

The digital element of this story — the pictures and short video clips attached to the original article in GQ — truly bring the entire plot to life.

The stunning images of this massive, monsterous mountain covered in bright white snow under clear blue skies are breath-taking. The images of hundreds of people stuck closely together in colorful coats and single file lines, packed in like sardines, illustrate exactly why this ordeal was so dangerous and problematic.

The video clips of these people inching their way up the mountain encapsulate the pain and fear they were enduring at those moments.

Each of these stories is truly inspiring. The authors present these regular sports of tennis, hunting, and mountain climbing in a unique and profound way — interweaving messages of hope, morality, dedication, and overcoming fears.