Column: Looking straight at a challenge


McZENA MUSE - Louise Swartzwalder



The benefit of being able to read is that it always gives you something to carry, caress, cherish.

I had decided I would treat myself one day by reading a rather long piece in the Feb. 12 edition of The New Yorker.

This magazine I adopted years ago, after a sage editor at The Cleveland Plain Dealer made reference to it when he assigned me to go do a piece, “like they would in The New Yorker.”

An intern, I wasn’t wise enough to have become familiar with that great magazine. But I soon figured it out.

For good writing, insightful observations and frequently amusing portrayals of others, there is none better

The piece that attracted me showed a full page photo, of this guy with a cigar in his mouth, and with one tooth missing.

His chin is red, probably frostbitten. He is wearing a hat and goggles.

This is the man who dared twice to go on treks in the Antarctica. His first trip was inspired by a man named Ernest Shackleton. This man had tried, but failed, to trek from one side of that continent to the other.

Worsley took two companions on a first trip. Then, still feeling the itch, he decided he would try this brutal trip, on a journey of more than a thousand miles. And he would do it alone.

Worsley was 55, with a supportive wife and two children.

The story of his trip is gut wrenching.

He was a retired British Army officer — but also a sculptor, boxer, horticulturalist and collector of information on Shackleton’s adventures.

To do his trip, he hauled a sled. It was loaded with provisions. He had a G.P.S. device which helped him determine where he was.

He carried a satellite phone, which would allow him to post updates on his adventures.

The New Yorker traces the way Worsley fought through each day of traveling across the Antarctica. One day he struggled through a “whiteout,” pulling his sled for 16 hours.

On the 69th day of his trip in 2016, he could drag the sled for only a few hours. On Jan. 22, after 71 days and a trek of nearly 800 nautical miles, he “pushed the button” and called for what he alled the “most expensive taxi ride in the world.”

A plane arrived to transport him. He walked under his own power to that plane. He said he knew he had made the right decision and he “had seen his naked soul.”

He had thought about how Shackleton could not complete his trip. He made reference to Shackleton saying “he’d shot his bolt.”

And he knew he had done the same thing.

When Worsley was rescued, it was discovered that he was suffering from bacterial peritonitis, an infection in the inner wall of the abdomen.

His wife, Joanna, was informed and she decided to take the next flight to Chile, where Worsley had been taken.

She was met at the airport by the British Ambassador. She knew then that her husband was dead.

She went to a church where he had been taken. He was in a wooden casket, with a collection of rock specimens from his trip.

His wife said she was terrified, but she looked at him and said “he looked completely peaceful. Almost happy.”

Worsley’s son, Max, and sister, Alicia, traveled to the South Georgia Island in the Antarctica. Max, at the tme of his father’s death, said “If I’m, half the man Dad turned out to be, I’d be so pleased.”

The story of this incredible man, though sad, should be an inspiration to anyone having difficulty handling the trifling things we face day to day.

I have a very dear friend, another brave man, who has had the courage to say he can discontinue taking medication for his prostate cancer. It has metastasized into his skeleton.

This, facing our frailties and courageously standing firm as we face them, should be something we all should be given the grace to do.

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McZENA MUSE

Louise Swartzwalder

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