“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 13 January 2012

Scott of the Antarctic

One hundred years ago next week, Captain Robert Scott and his Expedition arrived at the South Pole. Like many British children, I was brought up on the story of Scott of the Antarctic, and admired the bravery and courage of the Expedition members. Robert Scott and his companions were heroes of their time - brave explorers pushing back the limits of humankind's knowledge of the Earth.

Scott and the others at the South Pole

And yet, the end of the tale was so very sad - Titus Oates' noble self-sacrifice "I am going outside and may be some time" always moved me to tears - it was hard to understand how he found the courage to lay down his own life in the hope that without him to slow them down, his friends might be able to reach safety. But the ferocious weather was against them, and they died in their tent, a scant dozen miles away from a supply depot.

I wonder, what was it that kept them going as long as they did - I think it must have been the belief that they were doing something that was worth giving their all to. There is a lovely bit in the Peter Jackson film of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings which reflects this - Sam and Frodo are standing in the ruins of Osgiliath, and Frodo asks Sam what gives him the strength to carry on. Sam replies that it is his belief "that there is some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for."

Most of us will never be in such an extreme situation as Captain Scott and his companions. Nevertheless, all of us will have times when we feel "down" and wonder why we bother to get up in the morning, as there seems to be nothing to look forward to, nothing worth fighting for.

At times such as these, friends are vital. If we can share our troubles with someone who loves us "just the way we are", the chances are that we will be able to get over the bad patch and realise that yes, life is worth living, and that yes, we do have the courage to face whatever comes our way. Such friendship is beyond price - it can make the difference between surviving and living, between hurt and wholeness.  It involves compassion and love, and, practiced purely, it is one of the most healing influences in the world. It may not involve laying down our lives for someone else, as Titus Oates did, but it means putting that person's happiness before our own, because we cannot be truly happy if they are sad.

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