Thursday, March 17, 2011

Carrying the Bear of Faith

(I wrote this years ago, I have absolutely no idea why!)

Associated Press

Jim Hardcastle is a man with a mission. A mission that involves danger, suspense, freezing conditions and a six foot two inch tall Teddy Bear that he has affectionately christened Stanley. For Jim this mission is of the utmost importance and seriousness, but for Stanley? Well he’s just along for the ride strapped on Jim’s back – his embroidered smile never waning.

I first caught up with Jim at his mission training camp, which is located in the entertainment room of his modest two-bedroom house located in the Catskills. But there is no ordinary entertainment that goes on here; Jim has constructed plywood ledges and ramps, a miniature climbing wall and a large walk in freezer, which Jim and Stanley sit in for at least two hours every day. There are no televisions or stereo systems; anything that could be a distraction for Jim and prevent him from developing the skills he needs has been discarded. His passion and determination have cost him dearly. His wife Sylvia left him two months ago for a mountaineer in Colorado whom Jim employed to teach him the correct use of crampons. His daughter Jess has started dating the Emergency Repair Specialist from the Steiff Teddy Bear Company who Jim flew in so that he could learn the correct repair and maintenance of Stanley whom he commissioned from Steiff for a mere $5000.

Not only has Jim lost family members over his quest but his social life has suffered as well. Jim never leaves his house without Stanley strapped precariously on his back and so most of his friends now avoid him. Practically every business in Jim’s idyllic mountain village has banned him from entering their premises as long as he has Stanley riding with him. This inconvenience would have long deterred a lesser man but not Jim. He has his carefully balanced nutritional meals delivered to him once a month, which he then stores, and eats in his Entertainment Freezer Center. He is content to spend all his time with Stanley for as he says:

“If we can’t get on with each other now, how will we cope when we are trying to sleep inside my tent while we are making the main assault on the North Face?”

Jim’s dream, his drive, his calling and passion – although many would say crazed obsession- is to be the first man to make a solo ascent on Mount Everest with a six foot two inch tall Teddy Bear strapped on his back. Jim himself would describe his goal rather differently however and when he does so he speaks with the fervent passion of a country preacher with an inner fire that no amount of time in his home freezer can dim.

“I was reading through the book of Psalms when the LORD first spoke to me. Psalm 22v1 to be exact, ‘Let us go to the House of the LORD’. Then I glanced backwards and saw Ch 121v1, ‘I lift up mine eyes to the hills’. So many of the Psalms in my bible were described as ‘A song of Ascents’ that I knew the LORD was calling me to climb. I must ascend Mount Zion! I thumbed through my grandmother’s atlas, but I couldn’t locate Zion anywhere…….and that was then the Lord spakest unto me and shewed me that only the tallest mountain would be a fitting ascent for His Glory.”

Jim paused to wipe some froth away from his mouth with his pocket-handkerchief.

“I called my Nephew Dylan and bid him enlighten me unto the name of the tallest Mount. Out of the mouths of babes and infants is spoken much truth, but Dylan is only 15 months old and so he just gurgled and belched. As the LORD has not seen fit to bestow on me the Gift of Interpretation I called the local library where Phyllis informed me that Everest was the mountain I sought.”

Jim’s level of faith and obedience would shame even the most fervent Pentecostal. He truly believes that the LORD will sustain him and protect him during his climb. He quotes many passages to support this belief, his favorite being Psalm 121v3 “He will not let your foot be moved.”

But surprisingly there are still skeptics. Most of them desperately seeking an explanation for the presence of Stanley strapped on Jim’s back. I asked Jim to respond to the nay sayers who claim that even if Jim was fit enough to climb Everest, the presence of a frozen cuddy toy lashed to his back would make the climb impossible as a conservative estimate places the weight of a frozen Stanley at 577lbs and 4ozs.

“We all have our crosses to bear,” said Jim. “Stanley is mine. He is the bear that Daniel saw in his vision (Chapter 7) that was ‘raised up’. How much further can a bear be raised than the summit of the world’s highest mountain!”

Many of the village’s children however have embraced Jim as one of their own, an action that Jim sees as a confirmation of his calling. Some of them have gone so far as to throw temper tantrums until their parents bought plush soft toy bear backpacks, which they wear constantly. The sight of Jim and Stanley leading his entourage of devotees through the back roads is faintly reminiscent of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. But unlike the piper, the ‘Bear-Carrier of the Catskills’ is not out for profit or revenge. Simple obedience and faith is his calling.

The town’s only Minister, the Right Reverend Horace Thrumblaster has this to say about his most eccentric parishioner

“ I say this with as much love as I can muster, but I truly believe that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a Bear-Carrier to climb Mount Everest.”

But Jim insists that it is possible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle

“All you need is a very large needle or a very efficient Blender,” he says smiling.

I guess only time will tell.

Editorial Comment: When last seen, Jim was in the Himalayas accompanied by two Sherpas heading for his base camp. Stanley was nowhere to be seen however, for even Jim’s passion could be tempered by the corporate funding and Sponsorship of Disney. Stanley is now a permanent fixture at a children’s home outside of Springfield having been ousted by a Six foot two inch heated and thermally insulated model of Baloo from Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’.

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