As people who know me or have read BarkingShaman can probably guess, reading is a big part of my life. In addition to mid-grade SciFi and fantasy books (although very little fantasy for some time) I have developed a fondness for a specific kind of non-fiction in the past several years.
I enjoy reading books in which people persevere against great odds. Military non-fiction is a good source for this sort of thing as it often contains accounts of everyday people faced with unspeakable horror and terror and yet, usually through training, persevering. In my mind The Ship That Would Not Die and Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors should be considered classics of this genre.
Exploration of new frontiers is another source of these stories. The various books (and one excellent BBC miniseries) about Shackelton’s failed Imperial Trans-Antartic Expedtion relate a tale that Homer could have written.
A very different kind of new frontier is ventured into in the book that I just finished reading about a man blind since age 3 who braves experimental surgery to regain his sight decades later only to find that his brain has lost the ability to process visual data.
It is interesting for me to look at how I relate to the figures in these various books. I find myself wondering, would I be able to ignore my own injuries and push away the remains of my closest friends in order to man an AA gun under Kamikaze bombardment, or would I freeze up? How would I have fared in Shackelton’s party marooned on the pack ice for years? Faced with the chance of sight, would I choose to continue my happy life or at great physical and psychological take the chance that I might venture into the sighted world.
The inevitable (to me at least) follow up to these questions is, how would these people who I admire find me? What would they think of my admiration?
This is more than just a hypothetical question. There is an excellent book, Until the See Shall Free Them about the sinking of the bulk hauler SS Marine Electric. In addition to surviving in frigid waters aboard an overturned lifeboat, her chief mate, Bob Cusick broke the longstanding code of silence regarding the safety standards among the aging ships of the U.S. Merchant Marine. The changes instituted in part as a result of his testimony have likely saved countless lives.
Weirdly, this is where my this question comes almost literally home. Bob Cusick, unbeknown to me when I happened to mention the book to the teller at the bank, retired to my current town. In fact, his daughter walks my dog when she stays at the kennel and we almost rented a house across the street from him. The teller at the bank suggested that I drop a note for him there suggesting that we get together sometime.
I’ll never get a chance to talk to Sir Ernest, or Ret. Admir. F. Julian Becton or the majority of the other names found in the pages of my significant collection. At least not unless I go find them among the underworlds and one lesson that I think most spirit workers get pretty fast is that you do not pester the dead.
The odds are better than even that if I wanted to, I could arrange to meet Mr. Cusick. The problem is that I don’t know if I want him to meet me. I’m too afraid that I’d be found wanting by a man who I admire.
I’ve asked myself what my motivations are in wanting to meet him and the primary reason is that I want him to know that his story meant something to me, even though I’m not a merchant mariner. I’ve considered writing him a letter, could serve the same purpose, but I don’t know what I’d end up saying.