I drove the camper van to the top of the hill in Siena, Italy. I emerged in exhaustion from and looked around. It was beautiful. I was exhausted but I made it to be my destination. On top of this hill outside Siena sat a beautiful university. It was an estate that overlooked miles of vineyards looking toward Tuscany. Only 24 hours earlier I was observing the Mediterranean Sea in Genoa. I parked the camper van overlooking the water and went to get a slice of pizza.
The joy was brief. I came back thirty minutes later to find my driver side window broken. A thief stole half of what I owned, including my passport. Dusk was settling in and I did what I had to and canceled my credit cards. This was a time before everyone had a cell phone so I was struggling to find a pay phone to communicate back to the United States. Soon after, my travel companion, well I thought was a friend, ditched me and I was left to find my way to Siena. I was alone. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I had no choice but to keep moving and drive the 300 kilometers. I cursed. I hit the wheel. I even cried. I didn’t feel very proud of myself. But, I somehow kept going. I pushed on and made it there by dusk the next day. I wish I had a picture of me when I was driving, which would be most appropriate but in the end, I made it to Siena to this beautiful view.
I had so many good days traveling around Italy but that day was different. I can’t remember as many of the good days, though. I remember the road to Siena so well because of the pain. The pain was perfect. I smile every time I recall the day, which seems a little odd. As I look back, the pain was what made it the adventure. I can’t say it was successful except I lived and made it eventually to my location. But, I made it. Somehow. By the grace of God.
That memory came flooding back after reading the book, Endurance by Alfred Lansing. In it, Lansing tells the epic tale of Ernest Shackleton and his attempt to reach the South Pole in 1914 on the eve of World War I and make it across the continent. As the book shares, “In January 1915, after battling its way through a thousand miles of pack ice and only a day’s sail short of its destination, the Endurance became locked in an island of ice. Thus began the legendary ordeal of Shackleton and his crew of twenty-seven men.”
“For ten months the ice-moored Endurance drifted northwest before it was finally crushed between two ice floes. With no options left, Shackleton and a skeleton crew attempted a near-impossible journey over 850 miles of the South Atlantic’s heaviest seas to the closest outpost of civilization. Their survival, and the survival of the men they left behind, depended on their small lifeboat successfully finding the island of South Georgia—a tiny dot of land in a vast and hostile ocean.”
Did Shackleton succeed? Yes and no. He certainly did not achieve the mission objective but managed somehow to keep each man going to make it home. I’ve read a lot of books about survival. Not many come close to this. I think if he would have made it, the story certainly would still be good. But, would we recognize the pain it took to achieve such a task? I don’t think so. I believe we read about his voyage of survival with curiosity and wonder how he and his men managed to be creative to stay alive for almost 2 years.
The story of Endurance reminded me of my own pain. Shackleton certainly suffered more than I so I make no direct comparison. Yet, it reminded me of the purpose of endurance.
Good stories are found within those that endure.
Perhaps it is a reason I love movies about survival like 127 Hours, Apollo 13, Dunkirk, Band of Brothers, Alive, and Saving Private Ryan. I wrote about some of these movies in an earlier post. We are meant to be in pain from time to time to learn, adapt, and understand endurance.
Anytime I struggle in something, I must remember Shackleton and the pain on the road to Siena.
For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.
Romans 15:4-6 CSB (emphasis added)