Just a few weeks ago I was on my way back from my third expedition in Patagonia. Although I had heard of the spread of the coronavirus, I could never have predicted what I would see once I got back.
When I am not climbing I am a firefighter in Madrid, the city that in Spain has become the epicenter of the contagion. When I returned I was presented with the most difficult scenario with which I could ever mesure myself, after the terrorist attacks in Madrid. Only a few days ago, we extracted the bodies of 20 elderly people from a single building.
Situations like this shake the mind and the heart. As a firefighter I am used to dealing with accidents, natural disasters, and even terrorist attacks, but this time everything is different. We are fighting against an invisible enemy, who reaps victims with a scary high rate if compared to the attacks in Madrid. If other calamities, natural and not, generate destructive events that last one day, the corona virus forces us to remain in the front line non-stop. To lower one’s guard means to risk infecting oneself and others. These are unprecedented circumstances, thankfully rare, but they affect everyone’s life.
In my firehouse we are 30 firemen. Usually the environment is jovial. We say hello, shake hands, exchange jokes. Now the atmosphere is surreal and charged with tension. Distances are maintained. The other represents a danger. There is no time for fear. We must act.
No one knows what will happen the next minute, the next few hours, the next few days. Despite fatigue and concern, we move forward driven by a strange force that pervades us. We keep rowing, even if against the current. Surrender is not an option.
Once again, this extreme situation makes me realize how much I love my job. I fight together with my colleagues, and in my mind the wide horizons of Patagonia narrow following the profile of the roofs of this suffering Madrid. The adrenaline and fear alternate with some brief satisfaction, and hope is always alive, waiting for some sign of improvement. It’s like being in the mountains: sometimes the summit seems close, others so far away.
They say all events have a meaning. I believe that Earth, through this pandemic, has forced us to stop to allow her to breathe. They say that all battles bring fruit, even when we are defeated. This challenge has tested our courage, our inner strength, our adaptability, but above all our sense of responsibility. Every action counts.
It has given us a sense of gratitude that forces us to thank for being alive. A gratitude that is experienced only when health is put at risk. Things we previously took for granted have acquired a new value. We begin to enjoy today, rather than postpone to tomorrow. Gratitude leads me to cling to my plans for the future. I picture the moment when I will feel again the wind on my face.
When this will be all over, I will resume my training and prepare for next year’s expedition to Fitz Roy, scheduled for January 2021. I will return once again to Patagonia with the same enthusiasm and I am sure that I will enjoy the climb with greater intensity.
Pedro Cifuentes – Ambassador Zamberlan