My first encounter with the 1972 plane crash that stranded members of a rugby team and some of their family members in the Andes was, like for many others, the movie Alive. My roommate owned the movie and I decided to watch it one afternoon. After a few minutes, I stopped the movie. The plane crash scene was too much for me. I told my roommate about this and she agreed that it was one of the most graphic scenes she had ever seen. I challanged myself to watch that scene all the way through, no matter what. It took me nearly twenty attempts to do so. I would get a bit further each time, then I'd need to stop. I did not watch the entire movie until ten years later.
The Piers Paul Read book, Alive, was my second encounter with this event, and I was struck by the attitudes of the survivors--how they had lived through the horror, the temperatures, the injuries, and still saw reasons to go on and to thrive as people who were not defined by their experience.
Nando Parrado has always been one of the men I was most interested in, for he was one of the two men who walked over seventy miles through the Andes mountains to rescue the group. I had read that he did not want to talk about his experience, that out of respect for the group of survivors he wanted to keep the experience private. After helping Read write Alive, though, and doing a number of public speaking engagements about his experience, he changed his mind. Miracle in the Andes is Parrado's personal account of what happened to him from the time of the crash until after the rescue, and it includes his life now, thirty years later, and what he still takes with him from the experience.
Throughout the book Parrado's sense of honesty and balance struck me over and over. He described the faults and strengths of himself and of the other survivors. Through his talent as a writer he delivered poetic descriptions while clearly narrating the events. He talked about God and how he redefined his idea of God after the experience. While other people on the mountain said that they "felt God," Parrado admits that he never thought that he did. He did feel the power of the mountains, and he talked about the force and overall awe that he felt at the time.
Parrado also allows other people, ordinary people. to compare their struggles to his. I naturally felt the desire to do this--and to question, 'what would I have done?'. Parrado understands this.
He says, "After more than ten years of public speaking, after watching my story resonate, time and time again, with thousands around the world, I understand that the connection I feel with my audiences is rooted in something deeper than their admiration for what I did to survive. They are seeing, in my story, their own struggles and fears made real against a surreal backdrop, on an epic scale. The story chills them but also encourages them, because they see that even in the face of the cruelest kind of suffering, and against all odds, an ordinary person can endure."
Reading Parrado's book was sad, heart wrenching, amazing, funny, and beautiful all at the same time. To know that he did not see this event as a stopping point for his life, that he and the other survivors went on to live fulfilling, successful lives (though not without their struggles) gives me hope that if I keep my head about me, as Parrado did, there's nothing that I can't survive.