If you’ve watched or read the news this past week, pretty much anywhere in the country, you will have heard the story of the 3 lost climbers on Mt Hood. Luke Gullberg, Anthony Vietti, and Katie Nolan went missing after a climb on Mt Hood on Friday, December 11. Luke’s body was found Saturday, having succombed to hypothermia. In spite of heroic rescue efforts, Katie and Luke have not been found, and as of yesterday, the 17th, the search has been called off.
Katie was a friend, and her loss will be felt heavily by many. My grief is not so much for her–she loved Jesus, and is home–but for all of those left with a Katie-sized hole in their world. And my grief is also for all those who will never have the opportunity to know her and be cared for by her.
Katie had a way of smiling that lit up her face like sunshine, and warmed everyone near her. She was servant-hearted, and spent her life caring for those in need. Both in her job (helping homeless women get off the street and acquire jobs) and her volunteer work (she was a faithful supporter of Transitions Global, among other things), her heart was always for those in need, the oppressed, the poor.
She also loved the outdoors (she biked the Seattle to Portland bike ride a few years ago with my wife), which led to her loss this past week on Mt Hood.
Several years ago, Katie approached me while I was working on a documentary project called Skeleton in the Closet. She volunteered to participate, and her honesty was a breath of fresh air. Having spent a few years working on this project, I was encouraged to talk with someone who was finding hope and healing in the midst of what can be a crippling disorder. She was also an excellent writer. Her story is one of the most hopeful and beautiful of the series.
I also had opportunity to photograph Katie at a few Transitions Global events, at which she was present as a volunteer and supporter. This past September, she helped coordinate volunteers at their Bike for Shelter event. (You’ll see Katie briefly in this video of the event.) Katie’s support of Transitions, and its work to create a safe haven for young girls rescued from sexual exploitation in Portland, Cambodia, India, and elsewhere, is indicative of her care for those in need. Her love for Jesus was evident in all she did.
If you watched the news or read the papers, you saw a photograph (the one at the top of this article) of Katie that I took at the Bike for Shelter event. The Associated Press picked it up, and it turned up everywhere: CNN, The Washington Post, The Oregonian, etc. (I liked this article from KGW especially, as it talked a little more about the 3 climbers as people, not just statistics in a tragedy.)
Among many other ruminations this week, I (as have many) have had to grapple with the question: Why did such good, loving, servant-hearted people have to die so young? Why not some evil losers? We need more people like Katie, Luke, and Anthony in the world, not less. There are precious few of them.
Among other answers, I am comforted by two thoughts:
It is easy to be angry with God for the loss of a beloved person at a young age. I inherently assume that we have a right to a good 70 years with someone. If they die at 29, as Katie did, what good does that do the world? We’re left with a deficit of the other 40 years of Katie that God owed the world. But then I’m reminded: what if there never was a Katie in the first place? Shouldn’t I be grateful for the 29 years we did have her, for all the good that she did, for all the love and light she shared with us? The glass is half full, not half empty. No, truly, the glass is overflowing.
Second unto this, I’m reminded that my grief at the loss of young friends (and there have been several in the past few years)–that gaping hole left in their absence–really is a compliment to the quality of people I have in my life. If I were surrounded by self-centered losers, I would not bemoan their absence. But in reality, nearly every one of my friends and family members would leave such a gaping hole. I am truly blessed. And I am reminded that I want to be one of those people. I want to live and love large, that I may leave as big a hole as possible when I go home.
For Katie Nolan
It is for the world
that I grieve the loss of you–
Not you, who rests,
slipping into sleep,
drifting silently like snow,
It is for the world
of the waiting and praying, who hope,
remembering a smile as wide as sunshine
and as warm,
who mourn, with hearts rent
like a mountain crevass
cold as ice.
It is for the world
who will not know
your eyes bright like a summer sky, open,
robbed of your daylight
in their darkness,
that I grieve.
jealous as the grave.