In the Hearts of Men

It never ceases to amaze me when we see or hear about the great sufferings people through the ages endured just to hang on to their lives in the middle of cruelty either inflicted upon them by man or nature. "In the Heart of the Sea" is a classic example of incredible suffering and determination to make it home, no matter what it took.

Baking under the scorching sun or flailing about in a stormy night. The men of the whale ship Essex were of a hearty New England breed. Experienced whale killers and professional sailors, who never in their wildest dreams thought a whale could sink their ship. Sure, many times the skiffs were sunk by a whale, but never the mother ship. It was no accident: This whale intentionally made runs at the ship, until the ship sank into the depths of the sea.

What I particularly liked about this book was the description of the individual hands on board. Their human side. Their fears of not coming home fully loaded with whale oil to feed the lamps and light the homes of those waiting on Nantucket for their return. One can only dare imagine the pain of hunger and thirst. I have experienced both in my life, and I can say unequivocally that thirst is by far the most pain­ful. With hunger, the pain subsides after three or four days, but thirst is something that eats at your brain and makes it scream at your eyes and tongue in ways you cannot even imagine. Still, the will to live keeps you going, because you must. What is the alternative?

Survival is not bravery. Survival is instinctual. I drank water from rice paddies that had been fertilized with human feces and leeches. I drank water from bomb craters, and one time, from a well that had a body in it. The water was cool and sweet, and I would not have cared if there were ten bodies ín that well. I was going to make it home, just as the men of the Essex. No matter what! I thought about all the characters with me, just as Captain Pollard must have thought about his men in the same fashion. Who can blame any of them for eating their friends? I mean, who among us has even entertained the mere thought of eating another person? One cannot look with disdain upon the men of the Essex, because none of us has ever been in their situation. Some treated them as pariahs when they flnally made it home, but then those were people who never missed a meal, so how do they have the moral authority to condemn these brave stalwarts of the ocean?

There is a line from Alexander Solzhenitsyn's book, "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denosovich," that goes: "a warm man will never understand a man who is cold." I pick that book up every five years or so to remind myself how lucky I am to be in an American prison. Yeah, I know that is a strange statement, but I can say that I am warm, most of the time, and that I have food to eat and water to drink. Like my dear friend Mike says, and I know this to be true in my deepest soul: there are people in this world who would walk on their hands and knees for miles to drink the water from our toilet bowls. This brings home the power of words full force.

As we read, we try to think about what we would do if we were in similar circumstances. One man's suffering is a lesson for us all, if we allow ourselves to just feel for a moment what it must have been like. I feel for the thirsty and hungry, and I sure relate to the man who ís cold.

Joe Labriola

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