In her book TEACHING A STONE TO TALK (New York: Harper Collins, 1988), Annie Dillard reveals a sad, but poignant story. She tells of a British Arctic expedition that set sail in 1845 to chart the Northwest Passage around the Canadian Arctic to the Pacific Ocean. Neither of the two ships and none of the 138 men aboard returned.
Dillard argues that Captain Sir John Franklin prepared as if they were embarking on a pleasure cruise rather than an arduous and grueling journey through one of earth's most hostile environments. He packed a 1,200 volume library, a hand-organ, china place settings for officers and men, cut-glass wine goblets and sterling silver flatware, beautifully and intricately designed. Years later, some of these place settings would be found near a clump of frozen, cannibalized bodies.
The voyage was doomed when the ships sailed into frigid waters and became trapped in ice. First ice coated the decks, the spars and the rigging. Then water froze around the rudders, and the ships became hopelessly locked in the now-frozen sea.
Sailors set out to search for help (possibly delirious from lead-poisoning from the cans which preserved their food), but soon succumbed to severe Arctic weather and died of exposure to its harsh winds and subfreezing temperatures. For the next twenty years, remains of the expedition were found all over the frozen landscape.
Dillard reports that the crew did not prepare either for the cold or for the eventuality of the ships becoming ice-locked. On a voyage that was to last two to three years, they packed only their Navy-issue uniforms and the captain carried just a 12-day supply of coal for the auxiliary steam engines. The frozen body of an officer was eventually found, miles from the vessel, wearing his uniform of fine blue cloth, edged with silk braid, a blue greatcoat and a silk neckerchief – clothing which was noble and respectful, but wholly inadequate.
Historians may doubt the wisdom of such an ill-prepared journey. But more important for us is the question: Are we, too, prepared for the important voyage we've embarked upon, that journey we call "life"? I want to be as ready as possible for whatever may lie ahead.
I try to prepare myself for the future in several ways:
* Intimacy: I need some caring people in my life. * Work & Finance: I like to work hard, pay my way and help others where possible. * Spiritual Life: When I am spiritually centered and at peace, I can handle most things. * Service to Others: A lake with no outlet becomes a dead sea. It's true with people, too. * Mind and Body: Exercising my body as well as my mind helps them both work better. * Attitude Adjustments: I really can control my outlook and attitudes. * Emotions: I can also control my reactions, including anger. * Relationships: I need to make sure my relationships are healthy.
As long as we are alive, our journey is not over. And in large part, the success of our voyage will be determined by our regular and systematic preparation.