Even if we can’t prove that praying for somebody you don’t know can help them survive a life-threatening illness (Schlagbyte, 4/17/06), we do know that if somebody is dying in front of you, reaching out to help them might be helpful.

A 34-year-old British mountaineer, David Sharp, desperate for oxygen in what is called “the death zone,” collapsed along a well-traveled route to the summit of Mt. Everest. Dozens of people walked past him, unwilling to risk their own ascents, and left him to freeze to death. One of those climbers, Mark Inglis, was the first double amputee to reach the summit. He passed the dying Mr. Sharp on his way up and later, when interviewed by New Zealand television, said “The trouble is at 8,500 m it’s extremely difficult to keep yourself alive let alone keeping anybody else alive.” He said he had radioed for help, but that a fellow mountaineer told him, “Look mate, you know he’s been there x number of hours, been there without oxygen…. he’s effectively dead.”

A couple of weeks later, a 50-year-old Australian climber, Lincoln Hall, also collapsed near the summit. It’s not unusual — even the most experienced can become desperately ill from the lack of oxygen which can cause fatal brain swelling. Hall, an expert climber, collapsed at 28,543 ft., just below the summit. He was found the next morning by an American climber in a Russian-led expedition. They realized that even though Hall was motionless, he was still alive. Almost incomprehensibly, he had survived the night. The Russian leader dispatched a team of 13 Sherpas to rescue Lincoln Hall, and they did. They brought him hot tea, oxygen, medicines, and carried him down. The following day he descended on his own to an advanced base camp further down the mountain, where he was able to talk unassisted. He didn’t remember much about what happened but was in reasonably good condition.

Lincoln Hall may not remember what happened up there for a long time, but the rest of us will remember this story for a long time. We are losing perspective when a member of our party gets incapacitated and we leave them to die. I have enormous respect for the determination and personal courage that brings someone to pursue this astounding feat. I applaud the double amputee’s incredible testimony of stamina and will, but I also know he’s going to be thinking about Mr. Sharp for a long time.

In our pursuit of personal excellence, we cannot lose sight of what’s important. If you meet a beggar on the road, you reach at your hand because it’s the right thing to do.