Monday, 6 June 2016

Rooted in Reality: the Struggle Continues

I've just finished reading Laurence Gonzales' Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (2003). It's very interesting, not the least because it is not just about surviving. It's also about sons' attachment to their fathers, and fathers' attachment to their children. The book does delve into the stories of female survivors (of plane crashes, shipwreck and mountaineering accidents), but as the majority of people who pick recreations that place them in danger's way are men, it's mostly about men. Gonzales' dad, whose World War 2 survival obsesses Gonzales, had 8 sons. (Gonzales' mum doesn't come into the story that much, except as the second woman his father wanted to survive for. The first woman Gonzales Senior had thought of, as his plane went down over Germany, was his mother.)

I'm thinking a lot about Catholic priestly orders and how the women who aspire to join them would thereby destroy them, so the masculine nature of Deep Survival leaped out at me (so to speak). My mother once told me that if women became priests, men would cease to take religion seriously. I'm not sure if she was slagging off men, but I've come to the conclusion that she was right, and it's not a question of men being jerks. It's just that women don't have the same meanings for men (and women) that men have for men (and women). There are men who love and respect women who would fight tooth and nail to prevent women from becoming deacons-priests-bishops because these are men who also love the priesthood and the Catholic Church.

But the principle theme of Deep Survival is being rooted in reality because people who get lost in the wilderness or the sea who are not rooted in reality rarely survive. They do not make the transition from victim to survivor. The book has harrowing tales of shipwrecked sailors who drink sea water (NEVER drink sea water), go crazy and decide to leave the boat for cigarettes. They step over the side and are eaten alive by sharks. There is a story of a man who so needed to believe that he was not lost that he smashed his compass with a rock. There is also a story of a firefighter, abandoned by a real jerk of a so-called friend on a hike, who refused to light a fire for days because it was against park rules. And apparently it is psychologically difficult for people lost on trails to turn back and retrace their steps.

This made me chuckle because Benedict Ambrose and I have been going on hikes once or twice a week since I came back from Chartres, and when we get lost, I hate turning back and retracing our steps--especially when my feet hurt and I'm hungry. I want us to get to town, and so I assume town is in front.

I mostly enjoy our walks, but when I wondered aloud why we hadn't done it every summer, B.A. reminded me that he wanted to, but I didn't. That's when memory kicked in, and I remembered what I hated about our early treks or bike rides: principally, that B.A. wanted to go way too far for too long, and by the time we returned home, I was exhausted, aching and--worst of all--sunburned. I could write a whole post on how much I hate sunburn and I probably will.

However, having done the Chartres Pilgrimage which, among other things, was a lesson in managing pain, I can walk just as far as B.A., if not farther, and I also bring food, water and a first aid kit, which includes a sizable bottle of sunscreen. I wear my French Guide hat and the biggest sunglasses I could find at Tesco. I wear layers, taking them off and putting them on as I heat up or cool off. I put adhesive tape where I am most likely to get a blister before I put my socks on. And, very importantly, I question B.A.'s assumptions. If I don't question his assumptions, and docilely assume they are facts, we can get into trouble.

Two Benedictine-Ambrosian assumptions that have gotten us into trouble are (A.) that there will be a shop selling sandwiches when we want one and (B.) that the ordinance survey map is correct.  We learn as we go, and I have learned to fight B.A. on the food issue and say, "Well, you don't have to make a sandwich, but I am making a sandwich."  When I said that--and I cannot recall my mother ever speaking to my father like that--the world did not collapse. Instead B.A. decided to make his own sandwich.

As for the ordinance survey map, which I am beginning to hate, its fanciful ideas about paths have caused us many a riverbank scramble and most recently resulted in an interesting encounter with beef cattle.* Two days later, I should probably find it funny, but the reality is that I don't. I do not like running away from half-ton animals. It's a fact. Nor do I like being so spooked by the experience that next I run from a flock of excited labrador retrievers, from whom I am in danger only of being licked to death, and look like an idiot. Nor do I like listening to B.A. have arguments with ornery countrymen about the Scottish Outdoor Access Code because "the path" runs through private property.

Being rooted in reality means dealing with the world as it is and not as we would like it to be. In Deep Survival, victims die because they see their surroundings not as they are, but how they want them to be. In some cases, they actually hallucinate their desires. Survivors become aware of their circumstances, make plans based on those circumstances, and even find beauty in the circumstances. Dark humour and prayer are also helpful. (More on the latter anon.)

Another interesting lesson in Deep Survival is that survivors don't wait to be rescued. In some cases it is wiser to stay put and begin living a hopefully temporary stone-age way of life, but in others (such as when invisible to planes as are buried deep in the jungle) they have to rescue themselves. A teenage girl in her Confirmation dress and high-heeled shoes survived a plane wreck in the jungle and walked to civilization whereas adults who had survived the wreck stayed where they were (invisible to the sky) and died. The lesson I took from this--which may seem obvious but I grew up in a really traditional family--is that you can't depend on your husband to ensure your survival, and it is unfair to expect him to do all the work or be angry when he can't.

As for prayer, while reading Deep Survival I was reminded less of our relatively safe (if sometimes uncomfortable) countryside walks than of the Chartres Pilgrimage. One expert in Deep Survival says that becoming acclimatized to pain is very helpful, and in fact, that seems to be one important aspect of the Chartres Pilgrimage. Naturally, the pain part of the Pilgrimage is its primary penitential aspect. However, it was also terribly good training for survival because it hurt so much. It hurt so much that prayer, especially sung prayer, came as a relief, and as a matter of fact, soldiers sing songs and chant chants to increase their stamina and dull pain. Survivors, even survivors who don't believe in God, pray a lot.

The Chartres Pilgrimage has a lot of rules, spoken and unspoken, and the number on unspoken one is that you keep up with your chapter. Therefore, when I was left behind by my chapter, I was both thrown on my own resources and liberated. The pace of the Chartres Pilgrimage is pretty fast, and although I'm a fast walker, keeping up with my Chapter was tough. Anyway, one of the most liberating (perhaps most "Canadian") moment for me that day was deciding to give myself an unscheduled break in the woods. Having spent a jolly morning chatting with a new friend in an English Chapter, I zipped on ahead to look for the Scots. (Unbeknownst to me they were at the front, with at least an hour's head-start.)  When I saw some handy loos, I stopped there, had a look at my feet, bandaged a new blister, ate an apple and decided to wait for the English. I sat on a wooden fence of some kind, dangling my feet and ignored any surprised glances directed at me by the procession.

I forget when it was that I decided that my one and only goal was to SURVIVE, which in this context meant walking the entire way to Chartres Cathedral (and not breaking down and getting into the emergency van), but I suspect it was the misery of the bitter cold on Saturday night (37 F/2.7C). As a matter of fact, belonging to a Chapter was indeed the best way to survive, especially the half-hour I was sick and needed rudimentary medical attention, which came in the form of high-carb food I did not myself have.  (Lesson learned: simple carbs, even sugar, not always evil.)

*Deep Survival is skeptical of maps, not hikers, being wrong. However, I can assure you that the ordinance survey maps for East Lothian and nearby areas are at least occasionally wrong and some of the paths they correctly identify are almost never used and therefore almost entirely grown over and have no signage.

No comments:

Post a Comment