Remembering the Past
Spring Follows Winter

George Santayana wrote a century ago, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We live in a time unlike anything that any of us have ever experienced. COVID-19 changed the lives of the entire world.

The Spanish Flu in 1918 was the last time there has been such a widespread pandemic. A century ago, there were 500 million cases of the Spanish Flu, which was about a third of the global population and 50 million deaths. In the States, 675,000 Americans died from it.

The Spanish Flu

Compare the number of deaths due to the Spanish Flu to COVID-19 deaths. There are predictions that by the end of the year, COVID-19 will have caused the deaths of 375,000 America.

We are getting used to dire predictions, which seemed impossible a couple months prior. Regardless, President-Elect Biden has warned us that we are entering “a dark winter.” Things will get much worse before things start to get better. We can learn from the past about how to succeed in our dark winter.

Case in point. This story is about a very dark winter. It was December 5, 1914 that the HMS Endurance left South Georgia, which is an island off the southern tip of South America.

Map of the routes of the ships Endurance and Aurora, the support team route, and the planned trans-Antarctic route of the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Ernest Shackleton in 1914–15. Voyage of Endurance Drift of Endurance in pack ice Sea ice drift after Endurance sinks Voyage of the lifeboat James Caird Planned trans-Antarctic route Voyage of Aurora to Antarctica Retreat of Aurora Supply depot route

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was led by Ernest Shackleton who wanted to sail across the continent of Antarctica by sea and stop at the South Pole. While I am a dreamer, that mindset would have not been high on my Dreams-To-Do-List. Actually, it wouldn’t have been on my list at all, but it was on Shackleton’s list.

This is a photo of the crew of the HMS Endurance just before they set sail.

The crew of HMS Endurance

Interestingly, Shackleton had failed on two previous attempts, and yet he tied again. Problems began for Shackleton only a couple days after the voyage began due to pack ice. Pack ice are large pieces of frozen saltwater, which float in floes. Floes are merely large number of pack ice. Ship can maneuver through floes. However, a ship often won’t make it through large floes. The Endurance sailed into the pack ice. Months went by with little or no progress. By October of 1915, Shackleton and his crew weren’t able to sail their ship. The only movement was due to the floe of the pack ice that moved the ship as it drifted amid the ice.

The ice was here, the ice was there, the ice was all around….

Shackleton, the crew, and HMS Endurance was stuck in the middle of a floe. They couldn’t move ahead nor could they turn around to escape their dark winter. Not only were they stuck, but they could also hear the pack ice squeeze their ship in its icy grip. However, amid all the danger, Shackleton never gave up even though they could hear the noise of the crushing ice.

In Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, he wrote,

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

That was precisely what Shackleton and his crew heard and felt. One of his crew came to Shackleton amid a dark winter’s night and said, “The ship can’t live in this, Skipper … It may be a few months, and it may be only a question of weeks, or even days … but what the ice gets, the ice keeps.”

It cracked and growled, and roared and howled, like noises in a swound!

The crew was able to remove provisions, tools, and clothing from their doom ship. It wasn’t long before the pack ice devoured the HMS Endurance on October 27, 1915.

The HMS Endurance was swallowed up by the ocean.

The crew took three lifeboats and dragged them to open waters and sailed to Elephant Island. Then Shackleton along with four others took one of the lifeboats and sailed 800 miles to South Georgia.

Let’s go sailing…

Then he and two others walked across the mountains on the island to a whaling station. The Chilean navy sailed to Elephant Island and rescued the remaining crew. It had been 20 months of constant dark winter for Shackleton and his crew, but all returned alive.

Now, this story about the dark winters of a century ago. It is a parable. If Shackleton and his crew survived their dark winters in Antarctica, we can survive our pending dark winter in America. By remembering that it will take guts and determination, we can brave our dark winter. Spring always follows winter.

The alternative is to quit trying and fail.