In high school, Eric was an atheist. He exulted in his Nietzschean emancipation. A member of the honor society, Eric's IQ was definitely above average, but well short of brilliant. Yet he viewed himself as a superior being compared to his benighted classmates. He had particular contempt for a special ed student–as well as Josh, an openly Christian classmate. Eric regarded Christianity as a crutch for the weak. He disdained its "slave morality". He used to quote Mark Twain's adage, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
Although Eric derived momentary satisfaction from looking down on others, and contriving clever putdowns, he felt empty and bitter. That attitude ate away at him.
One weekend, some students organized a hike up the mountain. There were two small teams. Josh was in the first team, ahead of the second team, which Eric was in. When they began their ascent at the crack of dawn, it was a clear, chilly day. But further up the trail, it became overcast. At that point Eric removed his sunglasses. About an hour later, Eric's vision became blurry and painful. Despite the cloud cover, unfiltered UV rays from the thin air in combination with reflected light from snow-blanketed hillsides, induced snowblindness.
The first team reached the summit, then began their descent, crossing paths with the second team, on the way up. By the time his team was approaching the summit, Eric could no longer see well enough to continue. He had to sit down. He told his classmates he was losing his vision. But they left him there while they made it to the summit, to take in the spectacular view.
On the way back down, they walked past Eric. He was hoping, expecting, counting on one of them to lead him back down the trail, since he couldn't see well enough to navigate the trail on his own. But his classmates were worried that he'd slow them down. They needed to make it back to base camp before sundown, since they couldn't see the trail in the dark and temperatures plummeted after dark. So they left him behind to fend for himself.
Eric cursed them out leaving him behind, to die from exposure, but they quoted back to him one of his fond Nietzschean aphorisms: "The great majority of men have no right to existence, but are a misfortune to higher men."
So Eric sat by himself, desperately pondering what to do next. Although he could barely see, he tried to text-message Josh to come rescue him.
At first he didn't remember Josh's number. Then, for the first time in his life, he prayed. A moment later, he remembered the number.
He wasn't sure his message was intelligible, since he couldn't see the keypad properly, and he wasn't sure Josh even got the message, because reception was spotty on the trail. In fact, he wasn't sure if he had the right number.
So he sat by himself in lonely silence and fading light. Fading, not because it was getting dark outside, but because his eyesight was fading. Minutes later, he was totally blind.
Eric sat there for what seemed like hours. He realized that he was terrified of death. He didn't really believe Twain's adage. All along, he was playacting, having cast himself in a flattering role. He used to love quoting Nietzsche's death-defying maxims, but he only wanted to live dangerously if it wasn't really dangerous.
So he sat and sobbed. He swore at God, if there was a God, for letting him die on the mountain side.
Having lost hope, and having lost track of time, Eric was surprised and startled when he heard Josh call to him. Josh gave him a hug, and Eric cried. Josh waited for Eric to regain his composure, before putting eyedrops in his sunburned eyes, then winding a bandage around his eyes to keep him from blinking.
Then Josh took him by the hand and began to lead him down the trail. When the trail was rough, Josh put Eric's arm around his shoulder to guide and steady him.
It was too late to make base camp before dark, so they had to find a place on the trail, below the timberline, to camp out overnight. Josh gathered wood for a fire. Eric was utterly helpless. Josh fed him rations–spooning the spam out of the tin can with his finger. They snuggled for warmth during the frigid night.
Next day they continued their descent. After arriving at base camp, they spent another day and night in one of the cabins until Eric regained his sight.
After that, Josh and Eric were best friends. Eric began to read the Bible, asking Josh questions about the Bible. He attended church with Eric. Befriended the special ed student. In college, Josh suffered a crisis of faith, and it was Eric to prayed for him.
Decades later, Josh predeceased him. On his deathbed, Eric reflected on his brush with death as a teenager. Once again, he was facing death, yet the contrast made all the difference.