I have been thinking about courage. If I’d been on those airplanes, for example, would I have been among those who rushed the cockpit on Flight 93, or tackled the underpants and shoe bombers? If I’d been in that locker room, and saw a man raping a 10 year old boy, would I have intervened?
I can’t think of very many times when courage was called for in my life. Once, in my business partner’s private plane on our way to a meeting, we lost all electrical power, meaning we (he) could no longer navigate. The traffic controller guided us to the nearest airport for an emergency landing, and everything was fine. All I can say for myself is that I became preternaturally calm – but there was really nothing for me to do, other than not panic.
Sometimes in stores I see people yelling at their kids; I may have even seen a slap. I’ve never intervened.
But in that locker room? I have to think I would have done something. Screamed, at the very least. Not been calm. Not have called my father; not have gone home.
All of this is to explain why I am going to Antarctica tomorrow. I want to see the sites where, to my mind at least, one of the greatest acts of courage ever took place. Ernest Shackleton’s incredible voyage. I want to see the Weddell Sea, where the Endurance was stuck in the ice from January, 1915, until it sunk the following November. I want to see, if only for one night, what it’s like to camp on the ice, the ice that Shackleton’s crew camped on for two months after their ship was lost; then trudged over, dragging their three boats on sledges, till they could go no farther and had to camp again, at “Patience Camp,” for another four months.
I want to see Elephant Island, the first solid land for those 28 men in 17 months, where Shackleton left his crew and rowed and sailed, in a little wooden boat, 800 miles to seek rescue. I want to experience the Drake Passage, the roughest body of water in the world, which he and his little crew of five endured, coated with ice, for 17 days. I want to walk on South Georgia Island where they landed, where they marched for 36 hours, climbed the mountains and slid down the other side, finally reaching Stromness Whaling Station.
Four boats later (the first three got stuck in the ice), Shackleton arrived back at Elephant Island. All 22 men, who had lived there for five months, were rescued.
Shackleton died six years later at Grytviken, on South Georgia Island. I want to visit his grave.