Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Are You Ready?

In her book Teaching a Stone to Talk (New York: Harper Collins, 1988)
Annie Dillard reveals a sad, but poignant story about what happens when
we set out unprepared. She tells of a British Arctic expedition, which
set sail in 1845 to chart the Northwest Passage around the Canadian
Arctic to the Pacific Ocean. Neither of the two ships and none of the
138 men aboard returned.
Captain Sir John Franklin prepared as if they were embarking on a
pleasure cruise rather than an arduous and grueling journey through one
of earth's most hostile environments. He packed a 1,200-volume library,
a hand organ, China place settings for officers and men, cut-glass wine
goblets and sterling silver flatware, beautifully and intricately
designed. Years later, some of these place settings would be found near
a clump of frozen, cannibalized bodies.
The voyage was doomed when the ships sailed into frigid waters and
became trapped in ice. First ice coated the decks, the spars and the
rigging. Then water froze around the rudders and the ships became
hopelessly locked in the now-frozen sea.
Sailors set out to search for help, but soon succumbed to severe
Arctic weather and died of exposure to its harsh winds and sub-freezing
temperatures. For some twenty years, remains of the expeditions were
found all over the frozen landscape.
The crew did not prepare either for the cold or for the eventuality of
the ships becoming ice-locked. On a voyage, which was to last two to
three years, they packed only their Navy-issue uniforms and the captain
carried just a 12-day supply of coal for the auxiliary steam engines.
The frozen body of an officer was eventually found, miles from the
vessel, wearing his uniform of fine blue cloth, edged with silk braid,
a blue greatcoat and a silk neckerchief -- clothing which was noble and
respectful, but wholly inadequate.
Historians may doubt the wisdom of such an ill-prepared journey. But
more important for us is the question, "Are we, too, prepared for the
lengthy voyage we've embarked upon, that journey we call "life"? Have
we made ourselves ready for all that will surely await us?
Physically and mentally, are we prepared to handle what may come? Do
we regularly stay fit through daily study and exercise? Will our minds
and bodies be ready to cope with challenges, which will arise?
Emotionally and spiritually, are we ready? Do we practice such virtues
as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness,
goodness and self-control? Will we be emotionally and spiritually ready
to embrace an unknown future?
To embark on a journey unprepared can set us up for disastrous
results. But the good news is, we can still prepare for ours. And in
large part, the success of our voyage will be determined by our regular
and systematic preparation.
Are you ready?

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