By Capt. Harold Earls, co-author of “A Higher Calling”
My decision to tackle one of the more challenging items on my bucket list during my senior year at West Point was no easy feat. Some of my friends and family called me crazy, and while I almost believed them, getting the support from my then-fiancé and now-wife Rachel gave me confidence to take this next step. The only concern being that I had no real mountain climbing experience outside of the Georgian mountains where the tallest peak doesn’t even reach 5,000 feet. In spite of these setbacks, I trained throughout the year and in 2016, I had the honor of helping lead the first active-duty team and combat-wounded veteran expedition to the summit of Mount Everest to bring attention to PTSD and veteran suicide.
Descending Mount Everest
We share this story from both of our perspectives in the book “A Higher Calling: Pursuing Love, Faith and Mount Everest For a Greater Purpose.” The ascent may have been difficult, but the descent was unimaginable; an entire novel on its own. Climbing down Mount Everest was a constant fight with every next step. Maintaining stability while fighting the terrain, weather and physical exhaustion seemed almost impossible at times. Every inch lower was agony, and the whipping winds reminded me of the control I lacked with every sudden gust. The need to keep moving down the mountain at all costs, no matter how agonizing, was one thing I could control, so I focused every ounce of my concentration on each descending step.
I knew the only way to return home was by descending this mountain, but I was afraid. An unthinkable reality kept cycling through my mind: was I going to make it back? I thought about how Rachel felt, 9,487 miles away, likely worried out of her mind and asking the same questions I had asked time and time again. In spite of these concerns, no force in the world was going to keep me from Rachel. Coming home was the only option. Later while we wrote “A Higher Calling” together, Rachel told me exactly what she was going through at this time, which was so powerful. Rachel said, “It would be easy to let fear take over, but I’m not going to allow fear to write my story. I won’t be controlled by my current circumstances. Tonight, I choose faith over fear. Just like I did this morning. Just like I will do again tomorrow and the next day and the next.”
How to Face A Crisis Head-On
It’s easy to become overwhelmed and feel bogged down by the constant flow of conflicting opinions that surround any crisis in your life. Reaching your breaking point becomes all the more evident as one thing piles on top of another – but you have the power to change that. How often are our priorities backward? Now is a great time to center them back on what’s truly important. Stay informed, but don’t get consumed with the news or let it fuel your fears. Take all necessary action steps, but don’t let the anxiety consume you. When the worry feels overwhelming, turn to your faith and know that, especially in times of crisis, communication can be the difference between life and death. If you are worried, let it humble you and clearly convey how you feel to keep things simple to understand during those pivotal moments.
The world is facing multiple Everests right now. The moment your own personal Everest stares you down, bigger and scarier than ever, is a moment you should hold on to. Not only will you learn a lot, but it can bring you one step closer to your calling and ultimatily closer to your community. One thing I now know for certain is that life sometimes presents moments that feel impossible, but I also know that when you overcome these challenges you emerge even more resilient, stronger and with a story to tell.
Capt. Harold Earls IV is an active-duty Army officer currently serving as the Commander of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He is a graduate of West Point, and he is U.S. Army Airborne Ranger qualified. He and his wife, Rachel Earls, a beloved vlogger, creator of “Earls Family Vlogs” and founder of the Earls Family Foundation, are authors of “A Higher Calling: Pursuing Love, Faith, and Mount Everest for a Greater Purpose,” published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC (June 2, 2020). Follow them on Instagram @rachelearls and @haroldearlsiv and on Twitter @RachelWEarls and @HaroldEarls. https://www.earls.org/.