― Ernest Shackleton
Courage encompasses so many beautiful and awe inspiring deeds, but for some reason the courage to persevere is to me the loveliest of all.
In 1914, Irish born Ernest Shackleton started out on an expedition doomed to fail. Of course he didn’t know that going in. He had a state of the art ship, and crackerjack crew, and the experience necessary to reach his lofty goal: a continental crossing of Antarctica.
Sailing on the aptly named sea- vessel Endurance, Shackleton and his men set off for the deepest regions of the south of this planet as the rest of the world embarked on a great and terrible war. Shackleton and his men would soon be fighting a war of their own: to survive.
Through 1000 miles of ice pack in the unpredictable Weddell Sea, the Endurance sailed on.
And then, one day from its destination, the ship simply got stuck in the ice. Temperatures began to drop dramatically. The ship’s storekeeper wrote: “She was like an almond in a piece of toffee.”
That was January, 1915. Summer in Antarctica.
From February to October 1915, the men of the Endurance waited through the 24 hour darkness of Antarctic winter to see if their ship would become free or crushed as the ice flow broke up in the spring. After months of anxiety and strain, Endurance began to crack and implode from the indomitable weight of nature’s frozen ocean. Abandoning ship with as many supplies as they could drag across the unstable ice flows in their little life boats, Shackleton and his crew were only just beginning their real test of endurance.
Navigating on drifting ice, with a limited food suppy (they eventually had to eat their sled dogs), suffering from cold and exhaustion, Shackleton’s men persevered. 497 days since they had set foot on real land, they rowed their beleaguered crew, all still alive, in lifeboats onto Elephant Island, a rock in the Weddell Sea. Conditions became more and more appalling, and the unbelievably brave Shackleton made a bold decision. The only hope of rescue lie in an 800 mile open boat crossing to the nearest whaling center on South Georgia Island.
Leaving most of the men behind, he took 2 crew members with the most rudimentary navigational tools through a storm to finally arrive on the wrong side of the island. Then a climb in threadbare clothes and shoes over the mountains. Then finding a ship to help them go back to pick up the men. And I’m leaving out a thousand painful details because this would be a 15 page post otherwise.
On August 30, 1917, every man on Elephant Island was brought to safety by the unrelenting courage of their captain, Ernest Shackleton. It is a story you must see. (There’s a marvelous NOVA version available, which beats out the fictional adaptation by a mile).
It had been nearly 3 years since anyone anywhere had heard from the crew of the Endurance. The encouragement of that great leader, Ernest Shackleton, was the key to their profound success. Perhaps their original mission failed, but there was no failure for the brave captain and crew of the Endurance.
Endurance is the heart of courage.
To carry on for extended time, holding on to a shred of hope, carrying your cross and putting one foot in front of the other, this is where the rubber meets the pilgrim road.
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, for when he has stood the test he will achieve the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12
That we would all persevere, come what may, like our great, encouraging Captain of All before us…
Your friend on the pilgrim road,