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Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Opposite of Death

The book, “Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and my Long Trek Home,” published by Three Rivers Press in 2006, is one of the most gripping I've read in a long time. In it Nando Parado describes the harrowing experience of being in a plane crash on a glacier in the Andes Mountains, 12,000 feet above sea level, where he was stranded, cut off from communication with the outside world, and given up for dead with other members and fans of his rugby team on their way to Chile.

Nando lost his mother and sister and other friends in that fateful accident and in the days that followed. After weeks of desperately trying to survive in the bitter cold, resorting to eating remains of frozen cadavers to avoid starvation, he and two other survivors resolved they must try to find their way back to civilization for help, in spite of the risk and their lack of sufficient food and adequate clothing.

After miles of desperate climbing they reached a western ridge they thought would finally give them a view of civilization, only to find that when they finally got there they could see only more mountains. 

He writes, “In that moment all my dreams, assumptions and expectations of life evaporated into the thin Andean air. I had always thought that life was the actual thing, the natural thing, and that death was simply the end of living. Now, in this lifeless place, I saw with terrible clarity that death was the constant, death was the base, and life was only a short, fragile dream. In my despair, I felt a sharp and sudden longing for the softness of my mother and my sister, and the strong embrace of my father... and in that clarity of mind I discovered a simple, astounding secret: Death has an opposite, but the opposite is not mere living. It is not courage or faith or human will. The opposite of death is love.....Only love can turn mere life into a miracle, and draw precious meaning from suffering and fear...”

Nando and his friend did manage to press on and to eventually make their way back to civilization, and a rescue team was able to go back for the remaining 14 survivors at the crash site.

But this is a life-changing story you'll want to read for yourself.
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