There are many experiences in life that illustrate how compassionate and active love for our neighbor can have a life-preserving, health-giving effect.
One glimpse of this kind of life-saving love is shown in an IMAX movie currently showing at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. “Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure” features the heroic leadership of Sir Ernest Shackleton in saving his men from certain death in Antarctica. Born in Ireland, Shackleton was an avid polar explorer in the early 1900’s. In 1914 he took a team of men to the South Pole with the ambition of traversing Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole. However, their ship, The Endurance, became stuck in the ice. Hoping that the spring thaw would release them, the team waited patiently on board until it became obvious that as the ice melted it was actually crushing the ship. They had to abandon ship in one of the most dangerous and frigid areas in the world, and with no one in the outside world knowing of their peril.
Shackleton, according to the movie, was an irrepressible optimist. He also had the ability of refusing to look back at what had happened, instead looking forward to new goals and plans. When all hope of traversing Antartica was lost, his new plan – to save every one of his men – became his daily purpose. He attended to it with consistent energy, and his focus and compassion energized his men.
The men were always cold and frequently wet. Their diet, consisting almost exclusively of seal and penguin meat, was not on any current recommended list of healthy food, yet they stayed healthy. They did not give in to despair, even if at times they felt it. What they held on to were some life-saving qualities, including a brotherly love that was not subject to emotions. It came from a deep spiritual conviction of unity, and it helped them transcend disagreements during the difficult days of sitting on an ice floe. Whenever Shackleton saw one of them tired or overly cold, he ordered hot drinks or food for everyone. He never wearied of watching over them.
And he didn’t forget a healthy dose of daily joy. One item Shackleton insisted they bring onto the ice floe was a guitar – because playing music keeps up the spirits.
After camping for months on the large ice floe it finally cracked in two. At that point they endured a
five day storm-tossed journey in open lifeboats to reach the ice covered Elephant Island, the first dry land they had stood on in over 497 days.
Realizing Elephant Island was not on any shipping routes, Shackleton took a few men and again pushed out to sea in one of the lifeboats in an attempt to reach the whaling station on South Georgia Island, 1,253 kms away.
Five days and a hurricane later they landed, only to find themselves on the wrong side of the island. Determined still to save his men stranded on Elephant Island, three of them traversed uncharted glaciers and mountains with a rope, some nails in their boots and a commitment to their purpose. They reached the whaling station in just 36 hours – a journey that has taken recent experienced climbers with modern gear three full days. Eventually, Shackleton was able to get a boat through to Elephant Island, and every man on that expedition was saved.
During the same era of the early 1900's, Mary Baker Eddy, an American healer and researcher on health wrote about brotherhood in this way, “The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother's need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another's good.”
It seems a Divine presence was not far from Shackleton’s experience either. In his autobiography, "South", he wrote:
"When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, …. I know that during that long and racking march of 36 hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, ‘Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.’ Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels ‘the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech’ in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.”
More than the mere pursuit of friendship, adventure and personal satisfaction, Shackleton’s example shows the importance of having purpose and meaning in our daily actions towards other. His life’s story shows us that how we care for each other is crucial to everyone’s health and well being.
Anna Bowness-Park is a Christian Science practitioner who also writes frequently on the relationship between spirituality and health. You can read her blog at http://anna-bownesspark.ca or follow her on Twitter @bownesspark.
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