One of the greatest adventure stories in exploration history was a dismal failure. The ill-fated voyage of the ship Endurance never reached its destination. However, the story of its heroic captain, Sir Ernest Shackleton, survives as a stirring inspiration for all time.
The 1914 expedition sought to be the first to cross Antarctica. It failed when the Endurance became trapped in the ice for ten months before being crushed by it. The ship sank, and the crew drifted on ice floes for another five months before escaping in tiny boats to nearby Elephant Island. Sir Ernest and five of his crew later reached the island of South Georgia after a 16-day, 800-mile journey in an open lifeboat in treacherous seas. He returned to rescue the remaining 21 crewmen after three unsuccessful attempts.
The daring adventure returned to the headlines recently when a South Africa-based icebreaker found the wreckage of the Endurance 10,000 feet below the surface in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. The 5 March discovery thrilled the world with footage of the wooden ship in an ‘amazing’ state of preservation, 106 plus years after the sinking.
The technical details of the finding are fascinating. However, the discovery has a symbolic message for a world mired in mediocrity. The quest to find the Endurance contains a lesson that can serve to reawaken sentiments of heroism so needed in these times.
A Turning Away from Heroism
The ship lived up to its name; it symbolized incredible endurance. Its story showed how a small band of men defied the elements and reached the extreme limits of human effort in the face of adversity. This is the stuff of legends that used to inspire people to sacrifice, heroism and virtue. Figures like Sir Ernest Shackleton were deemed worthy of imitation.
However, postmodern times gradually destroy the appetite for heroic endeavours full of danger. The present materialistic culture glorifies comfort, safety and health. People turn inward to focus on daily life’s trivial, mediocre things. Instead of grand horizons, people indulge in pleasures and vices with all the passion of their beings. For this reason, society is in such a state of crisis.
Few exercise the option of sublime and daring endeavours, which are consigned to the risky bygone adventures of saints, heroes and poets that all “sensible” people avoid. Indeed, the virtues and qualities of Sir Ernest and his crew are as if buried 10,000 feet deep in the ocean. No one wants to endure the suffering, sacrifice and dangers to break out of the watery tomb.
And so, these things would remain hidden if left to the natural course of a decadent society.
A Yearning That Cannot Be Suppressed
However, the symbolic lesson of the finding of the Endurance proves the contrary. Human nature can never be satisfied with a mediocre existence and life without purpose or challenge. The pursuit of sublime and heroic undertakings cannot be suppressed. It must find ways to express itself. Souls come alive when in contact with them.
There is a yearning of the postmodern soul that searches in the depths of society for those hidden, lost treasures that give meaning and purpose to life. The epic search and finding of the Endurance thrilled the world and served as a sign that these things exist and can still inspire souls to great feats.
Deep inside souls, heroism, sacrifice and virtue wait like the Endurance in an excellent state of preservation for those with the courage to search for them.
Mugged by Reality
The case of the Endurance is only one of many appeals to break out of mediocrity. Mugged by the terrible reality of the postmodern wasteland, many now sense the social and psychological emptiness of the present course and are searching for alternatives.
Surprisingly, they express a desire, yearning, and admiration for once-rejected traditions, forgotten narratives and sublime art. From Gregorian chant to specialty beers to Gothic architecture, they manifest an astonishing openness for the marvellous fruits of Christian civilization. Some make incredible sacrifices to return to tradition and reject modern abominations. Others find the One True God after a long trek amid tribulation.
These are the seeds that inspire great exploits. They convince people to abandon their self-love and sacrifice themselves for others. They open the horizons with an invitation to be the heroes and saints that are so needed today. The world needs new Shackletons to inspire a return to order. The symbolic finding of the Endurance, despite all odds, proves that this new world is possible.
An Endurance waits in the hearts of all who dare to look beyond self and resurrect those virtues long abandoned. It is the reward of all who embrace that ever ancient, ever new God Who has always inspired the great epics of history.
By John Horvat