The other day I was watching this documentary I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash on the History Channel, which tells the story of the rugby team that crashed in the Andes in 1972, and then, miraculously, survived 72 days before being rescued. I had known the story, as I’m sure many of you do–I watched the movie Alive when it came out, and I have a vague recollection of reading the book in high school, so the story itself wasn’t new. But something about the way the documentary was done was mesmerizing. They talked to survivors, they talked to family members, they talked to people such as the Mt. Everest base camp doctor (to get perspective on what would have been happening to their bodies at that altitude and temperature). There were photographs of the crash site, both from then and from now. I hate to keep using this word, but it was truly mesmerizing. (Seriously, I really recommend watching it if you get the chance and are into this kind of thing).
One of the things I really liked about the documentary was that their focus on the cannibalism was much smaller than in other tellings I’d heard. In case you are unaware of the details, 45 people crashed in the Andes, and 16 survived. Those that survived turned to cannibalizing the dead to stay alive. I can’t imagine how horrible it must have been to make that choice, but to me, it’s always been a testament to the human will and ability to survive under the most horrific of circumstances. But that was only one part of their 72 days of survival–they faced extreme temperatures, injuries, avalanches, and, oh yeah, a plane crash, among others. Every single one of their 72 days on that mountain they had to make life and death decisions–what would you do?
The whole documentary was fascinating, and told beautifully. One of the main things I loved was that Nando Parrado, one of the survivors and one of the two men who ultimately saved the rest (by trekking 40 miles through the Andes until they came across a rancher who was able to get help), was interviewed throughout. He told his story, as I’m sure he’s done thousands of times. He was matter of fact about much of it, though you could tell that it’s an experience that will never be “matter of fact” to him personally. He lost his mother and sister in the crash, and he said in the one part of the documentary that his desire to see his father and other sister is what kept him going, and eventually got him off that mountain.
And then he said something that has resonated with me for a few days. “Life is very simple, actually.” The gist of what he said was, we make life more difficult. In the end, it’s about love, and family, and doing the things that make you happy.
Now, a man who has faced an absolute hell on earth, and defied death, has to have a unique view on life–for someone who has faced what he faced, I imagine that not a lot matters the same way it does for a lot of us.
But really, why does it take life & death for us to learn this lesson? I mean, why can’t I, in my cushy life, take this to heart?
Life is very simple, actually.
That doesn’t mean I have to quit my job and just do what I want, but I can learn to…let go some. And I can not stress over bullshit. And I can learn that it’s ok to do things because I think they’ll make me happy, even if they don’t have a capital-P purpose. I can revel in the time with my family. I can enjoy simple pleasures and big moments and try, TRY to let all the crap of life fall away.
I may never(please oh please) be in that kind of life and death situation. But I can learn a lesson from someone who was. I don’t know 100% what that lesson is yet, but that phrase, it’s stuck with me for days.
Life is very simple, actually.
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