On Being Late

Andrew O’Hagan

It can be quite frightening, having to be somewhere by a certain time. We make it more bearable by not giving it too much thought, yet being on time is often judged, particularly by the punctual, as representing one’s ability to hit the mark as a human being. In 2017, Alex Honnold, the American free-climber, scaled El Capitan, a 3000-foot rockface in Yosemite, with no harness and no ropes. What is extra alarming is that he completed this feat against the clock. Honnold says that he had to reach the most difficult part of the climb, known as the Boulder Problem, before the sun got there. The situation is completely unfathomable to me. He set out to perform a superhuman feat to a tight deadline, with the promise that, were he even a little bit slow, he would become a bag of bones at the foot of a precipice.

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