By Hugh Everett
In March of 1997, I moved to Yamagata City, Japan, to teach English in a private high school. I soon met several climbers in the area and, one day in May, a friend took me to a local climbing gym. There, I noticed a man climbing up a very steep overhanging wall. He was a highly skilled climber with excellent form — despite that his left leg ended at mid-thigh.
During a break I introduced myself. He said, “I’m Mineo Ono. You can call me John if you want! Since I married my wife, Yoko, people call me John Lennon.”
Later, I carefully asked Mr. Ono when and how he lost his leg. “Cancer,” he replied. “They took it off in March. I’m still in the hospital, but they let me out for a day. Don’t tell them I’m climbing, they’d get mad at me!” I was stunned. Here was a man two months after an amputation, climbing cheerily up harder routes than I’d ever dreamt of completing.
I spent lots of time getting to know Mr. Ono that year. I visited him in the hospital and, on his days out, invited him and his wife over for dinner. He was always cheerful, even through bouts of nausea from his continuous chemotherapy treatments. His great attitude and ability to even joke about the amputation often surprised me.
He said, “I’ve never used a computer before, and all this time in bed seemed a good opportunity to learn, so I got a laptop. I had to pay to get the phone line extended to my bed, but I’m on the Internet now. I want to study English, so let’s practice.” He emailed: “My name is Mineo Ono — M. Ono. I have only one leg, so you can call me Mono!” And: “All this lying around has really made me weak. But since I lost about 10 kilograms with the leg, I can climb as well as ever.”
Mr. Ono was hospitalized for well over two years, with only occasional visits home. I asked Mrs. Ono if her husband ever got depressed or angry. Her reply was, “Sometimes, yes. But not as often as I would have.” His good humor continued after he left the hospital. He wrote describing a small climbing accident. “I was 60 feet up and my artificial leg fell off! Luckily, it didn’t land on anyone, and it wasn’t badly damaged. I worried that I’d have to buy a new one; they’re really expensive!”
In April of 2000 I tore a ligament in my knee, and spent three weeks in the hospital. Often I became quite despondent over the loss of function and strength in my leg, and complained. Then I would remember Mr. Ono, and realize how fortunate I was. His attitude and humor in the face of such adversity were lessons I will never forget.