Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado
Humans can end up torturing themselves with possibilities. If only this had happened or that hadn’t. What if I said no instead of yes? I should have gone this direction instead of that one. I used to know the game all to well. I’ve learned, however, it is best to not sink into this line of bitter thinking. Thoughts like that won’t change the past or help you in the present. That can be said for all the survivors, as well as the family members of the victims, of the plane crash that is the basis for this novel. It happened. The plane crashed and from that moment forward everyone’s lives we’re going to be different than they had hoped or planned for.
As a side note, I think many people are familiar with this story, but if you aren’t and want to read the book, there are a few very minor spoilers in here. Nothing that will ruin your enjoyment of the tale but nonetheless.
A Uruguayan rugby team charters a plane for an exhibition match. In the midst of stormy weather the plane crashes in the Andes and roughly two thirds of the passengers survive. The book covers not only the gory details of survival, but the camaraderie, courage, determination, and life lessons that followed. I read this novel days before being put into Covid isolation and that timing was excellent. I tested positive for Covid (as has more than half the prison) and was told to grab a clean t-shirt, underwear and wait outside to be escorted to isolation. Upon our arrival we are greeted with orange jumpsuits and told to put our dirty clothes in bags we will be give when quarantine ends. There’s nothing like orange jumpsuits to really set off the quarantine experience.
There was nothing in the covid isolation rooms. Myself and four other inmates, three bunk beds, 6 lockers and a few chairs. No books, magazines or newspapers. No TV’s or radios. It was….an experience. I made it through even better than I thought I would. I’ve learned a lot in the past months and those lessons served me well through the restrictions put on us while we waited out our 11 days. Yes, you are correct, CDC guidelines are 5 days for asymptomatic vaccinated individuals. File that one under “things out of your control that you should let go of.”
This book creates space to ponder the grueling aspects of survival, the unknowns of the future, and the fight for one’s life in the mountains. It provided ample perspective for me in a situation where I otherwise may have been inclined to complain. Instead of fighting for my life in freezing cold conditions while sleeping ten feet way from my deceased friends and family members I was in Federal Prison, stuck in a small room with absolutely nothing to do. I was provided three meals a day and the space was reasonably warm. My family is safe, my friends are safe. Anyone on that chartered flight would have gladly traded places with me. Thinking of them, thinking of this story, kept me almost unreasonably calm and high-spirited about the circumstances I found myself in.
Every Friday we have fish for lunch. Baked fish Friday’s they call it. All of us are as excited about Federal Prison fish as you can imagine. I don’t know what type of fish it is but I know it smells a bit off and tastes almost as bad as it smells. I am, however, very grateful for the meal. In this case, I thought about who else would be thankful for that meal. Likely, those trying to survive a plane crash who had to resort to eating the flesh, muscles and organs of their friends. To them, fish Friday would have been the most glorious of meals. The downside to my positive attitude adjustment about fish Friday’s is something I have to live with – it’s now even harder to eat because of an awareness that it’s better than what I will refer to as an ‘alternative protein source.’ I understand that comes across as creepy, but once you read this book and walk through this story of survival it leaves an imprint on your soul. Any queasy thoughts that arise from the circumstances that led to the team taking the action they did to survive are outweighed by the peace the author has found not in spite of the accident, but through it. He crafts a beautiful way of looking at the challenges we’ve faced in the past and the parts of our lives that didn’t go the way we hoped. That we can live a good life not in vengeance of what we have gone through, but because of it.