A few months ago, a dear friend of mine, who is a bookworm like myself, recommended to me a new book to read, promising I would like it and describing it as a gripping, breath-taking and inspiring survival story. Knowing my friend’s taste of books, I didn’t hesitate, and I started reading the book right away.
A little slow-paced in the beginning, I literally started devouring the pages of Parrado’s Miracle in the Andes as the plot started to unfold, and the book turned out to be a most un-put-down-able one. I was before a distinguished piece of art, a heart-rending story of survival, love and what it means to be alive. This was before I realized I was before a book which LITERALLY changed my life later.
Young, athletic, full of life, Parado is one of the members of the Old Christians rugby team travelling to Chile, with other team members as well as his mother and sister Suzy, in order to participate in a match like he has done before, except that this time the trip was like no other. It never occurred to him that he was going to confront the most powerful, resolute and aggressive of enemies: Nature.
Parrado falls into a three-day coma before he comes to his senses only to discover that the plane has crashed into the most ruthless mountains of the Andes. He comes to his senses to lament the loss of his mother and, a few days later, his sister Suzy whom he loves so dearly.
No words would ever be able to describe the “life”, if we may call it so, Parrado and his fellow survivors had to endure for the following 72 days. They were living in the shade of death. Every breath of the mountain’s thin air was an adventure the repercussions of which were never guaranteed. Each of the survivors had already lost a dear one: a mother, a sister or a wife. Parts of dead bodies scattered around the place, intensifying the gruesome atmosphere, let alone the miserable condition of those who, despite surviving the crash, seemed to embrace death at every heartbeat. Things got even more horrifying when they realized that in order to survive, the only solution they had was eating the flesh of their dead companions. It was before they realized, to their horrified recognition, that the radio they had, the only means through which they could contact the world of the living, no longer worked. And when it did, the first thing that struck their ears was the voice of a reporter announcing that all efforts to find them had stopped as there was no trace of them, sentencing them to unnegotiable and inevitable, yet slow and merciless, death.
In a rare incident, I was before a book that filled my eyes with tears. Moreover, it was a book that urged me to look back on my whole life with a re-evaluating eye. Although the incident narrated in the book happened many years before I was born, the book was written in a language that was so genuine and vivid that I felt the whole incident was just taking place on the other side of the book. I started thinking. While those survivors were shivering in the cold, with their bloody summer clothes sticking to their bodies and their blood freezing in their veins, I was probably lying in my bed under a thick blanket or two, with my hands wrapped around a cup of hot chocolate after having a hot bath, lamenting the fact that I would have to wake up early in the morning to go to work in that climate. While they were starving with even no living creature as tiny as an insect around them to eat, which eventually led them to eat the flesh of their dead friends to survive, I was probably quarreling with my mom for cooking a dish which I didn’t like or maybe craving pizza along with my favorite lemon with mint juice at my favorite restaurant. While they were bleeding to death, having lost an arm or a leg, I might have been suffering from one of my chronic asthma attacks that drive me to the verge of insanity, but I was probably using my nebulizer while being surrounded by nearby hospitals that I could resort to in case things got worse. While they were completely cut off from the whole living world, I was probably chatting with a friend in Canada or Morocco or scrolling my homepage on Facebook to know the latest news of each and every single friend I had. While they were being sentenced to death by a news report announcing that all efforts to find them had stopped, I was probably arranging a girls’ day out with my friends on our WhatsApp group or even missing a friend who was only a text message away. While they missed their family members they had lost in the crash or those who seemed now too far away to reach, I was probably chatting with my father, hugging my mother or complaining that they didn’t express their love for me as they should have.
In one of several attempts, Parrado sets on a trek for survival. He miraculously comes out of this experience, having discovered what it means to be human, what it means to live life, what it means to savor every moment, every breath and every blessing. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that when I “got out” of that book, I had transformed into a new person. I started realizing how rich I am. I started counting my blessings, including, or especially those, which I very casually had always taken for granted. My words aren’t meant to be a sermon or a sedative though. On the contrary, we all, without exception, have our share of burdens, sorrows, disappointments, catastrophes, you name it. We’ve all at some point lost a dear one, faced a financial crisis, contracted a ruthless disease or been unfairly treated. However, we’re still all rich, each in their own way. It’s how we view life that matters. What matters is how we are able to feel the blessings we have and savor them despite our hardships. What matters is how we should try to rejoice at the joyous moments we have, no matter how few they are, despite our sorrows and whatever we have lost. To fight to be happy despite all the obstacles to happiness remains the essence of being human, for being human in to fight.