“Can You Do It?”

It’s unlikely that any of us will find ourselves in Tom Crean’s situation when, in the closing days of the Antarctic autumn of 1912, at the end of a 1300-mile walk, he set out to go another 35 to save his companions. We no longer find ourselves trekking such extreme distances on such minimal resources, cut to hair-thin margins. We no longer find ourselves so alone, with no way to call for help when needed.

We can look at Crean’s long walk as a feat of selfless sacrifice for others, as an amazing feat of endurance, as an act of extreme risk and heroism in the face of the most daunting of odds. It was all of those things, of course, but it was also something else. It was the patient placing of one foot in front of the other, repeated, and repeated until it could no longer be done. We can imagine him moving across the frozen wastes in a state of unthinking reverie, because a conscious thought of the hopelessness of his task, of the extremes of fatigue corroding his every impulse, of the impossibly long odds against success of any kind—these would take the heart out of any man.

There comes a time when we no longer are in and of this world, when the work that we must do comes as naturally as breathing, as unerring as a heartbeat if we can only find that state of release and let it be.

Chapter Seven of “When Your Life Depends on It” takes a close look at Crean’s long walk. Perhaps the question of that chapter “Three Biscuits and Thirty-five Miles to Go: Would You Do It?” should come not as a challenge we already know that most of us will never encounter. Perhaps it might be more abstract: Can you find that place within yourself where there are no obstacles, no victory or defeat, but only the task at hand?

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