On oars of courage
On oars of courageIn 1982 Steven Callahan was crossing the Atlantic
alone in his sailboat when it struck something and
sank. He was out of the shipping lanes and floating in
a life raft, alone. His supplies were few. His fishermen
found him seventy-six days later (the longest anyone
has survived a shipwreck on a life raft alone), he was
alive -- much skinnier than he was when he started,
His account of how he survived is fascinating. Hisingenuity -- how he managed to catch fish, how he
fixed his solar still (evaporates sea water to make
fresh) -- is very interesting.
But the thing that caught my eye was how he
managed to keep himself going when all hope
seemed lost, when there seemed no point in
continuing the struggle, when he was suffering
greatly, when his life raft was punctured and after
more than a week struggling with his weak body to fix
it, it was still leaking air and wearing him out to keep
pumping it up. He was starved. He was desperately
dehydrated. He was thoroughly exhausted. Giving up
would have seemed the only sane option.
When people survive these kinds of circumstances,
they do something with their minds that gives them
the courage to keep going. Many people in similarly
desperate circumstances give in or go mad.
Something the survivors do with their thoughts helps
them find the guts to carry on in spite of
"I tell myself I can handle it," wrote Callahan in his
narrative. "Compared to what others have been
through, I'm fortunate. I tell myself these things over
and over, building up fortitude...."
I wrote that down after I read it. It struck me as
something important. And I've told myself the same
thing when my own goals seemed far off or when my
problems seemed too overwhelming. And every time
I've said it, I have always come back to my senses.
The truth is, our circumstances are only bad
compared to something better. But others have been
through much worse. I've read enough history to
know you and I are lucky to be where we are, when
we are, no matter how bad it seems to us compared
to our fantasies. It's a sane thought and worth
So here, coming to us from the extreme edge of
survival, are words that can give us strength.
Whatever you're going through, tell yourself you can
handle it. Compared to what others have been
through, you're fortunate. Tell this to yourself over
and over, and it will help you get through the rough
spots with a little more fortitude