I just finished a great book by Lawrence Gonzales, titled Deep Survival that I highly recommend. It is a book that looks critically at survival – who lives, who dies, why, and the many other mysteries of survival. It is not a how-to book per say, but a combination of great storytelling and hard science.
It starts with the story of Federico Gonzales, First Lieutenant in the Air Force near the end of World War II. Federico piloted a B17 and on was on his last mission when the unthinkable happened.
He was shot from the sky and his plane started plummeting towards the ground from 26,000 feet. Most, if not all, of the crew were killed immediately from enemy flack or hypoxia.
The plane came apart as it streaked towards the ground. No one had time to dawn a parachute or even say a prayer, death was certain and approaching at the speed of terminal velocity.
However, not Federico…he lived, to wake up on the ground in severe pain, most of his bones shattered from the impact. However, his survival story was only the beginning.
As he laid there in extreme pain surrounded by smoldering plane parts, a local farmer ran up upon the crash site with less than welcoming thoughts. With a pistol in hand, he walked up to Federico, pointed it at his head, and pulled the trigger.
It misfired. All he had to do now was survive years in a prisoner of war camp, horribly crippled, and in pain.
By the way, he did!
Although I find such stores fascinating, and the book is full of them, it is the analysis of the survivor’s mindset I find compelling.
So what is the difference between someone who survives and those who do not? Is it luck?
Many of us will never expose ourselves to the extremes of Mother Nature to test our resolve and fortitude, but afew of us live unscathed by the misfortunes and accidents of life. All of us have scar tissue, some more than others, so how is it some seem to arise over whatever takes a shot at them, wiser and more centered while others suffer and struggle at the least bit of pressure?
Here are the Lawrence Gonzales observations distilled down to twelve points; here is what survivors do:
- Perceive, believe (look, see, believe)
- Stay Calm (us humor, use fear to focus)
- Think/analyze/plan (get organized, set up small manageable tasks)
- Take correct, decisive action (be bold and cautious while carrying out tasks)
- Celebrate your successes (take joy in completing tasks)
- Count your blessings (be grateful—your alive)
- Play (sing, play mind games, recite poetry, count anything, do mathematical problems in your head)
- See the beauty (remember: it’s a vision quest)
- Believe that you can succeed (develop a deep conviction that you’ll live)
- Surrender (let go of your fear of dying; “put away the pain”)
- Do whatever is necessary (be determined; have the will and the skill)
- Never give up (let nothing break your spirit)
I love lists like this; I appreciate all the chunking and “distilling” it took to simply state them so clearly. It is not easy work.
However, I also ask myself how these steps, what seems so easy, can be so hard to do – especially when the pressure is on, life’s pressure.
What do you think? Larry