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The launching of the <i>James Caird</i> from Elephant Island.
Wikimedia Commons
The launching of the James Caird from Elephant Island.

Finding gratitude in the worst of circumstances

Faith & Inspiration

My husband has been ill for six months and bedridden for four (with a hiatus for a trip to North Carolina). As I was whining about this, I was taken up short when my husband named my problem: “You’re not grateful.”

Today I happened to review the account of the 1914-17 trans-Antarctic expedition of Ernest Shackleton and his men aboard the vessel Endurance.At some point the three-masted schooner struck polar ice on the way to its intended destination of Vahsel Bay, and despite a heroic attempt to work through it that went on for months, the 28 exhausted sailors had to abandon ship, eventually making it to a speck of rock and ice in the Southern Ocean called Elephant Island.

When the explorers decided they would never be found by search parties, Shackleton made the bold move to take a few men with him on the longest of the lifeboats, the James Caird, and to set out for help from the island of South Georgia, 800 miles away.Shackleton left a man named Frank Wild in charge of those left behind and awaiting rescue. As there were no natural sources of shelter, the stranded band hacked their lifeboats into shelters, hunted sparse pickings of seal and penguin, and endured illness and frostbite.

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But the ship’s physician, Reginald James, in gratitude (catch my husband’s word) for the leadership of Frank Wild, somehow scribbled out this poem in his honor:

My name is Frankie Wild-o.
My hut’s on Elephant Isle.
The wall’s without a single brick,
The roof’s without a tile.
Nevertheless I must confess,
By many and many a mile,
It’s the most palatial dwelling place
You’ll find on Elephant Isle.

So as not to leave you in suspense, I will tell you that Shackleton returned with help four months later, and not a minute too soon. But the point of this story is not the ending or even the beginning or middle, but the gratitude of men on an ice floe eating penguin scraps with frozen fingers behind a lean-to in stiff winds.

There is always something to thank God for.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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