Miracle in the Andes

The Andes flight disaster happened in 1972, in which a flight with 45 passengers crashed in the Andes mountain range. For more than two long months, they held out, and 16 survived. As one might imagine, the living conditions in the Andes are not ideal. The temperatures in the area of the crash were far below freezing, especially at night.

They resorted to eating the other dead passengers to survive, as they ran out of food rather quickly. It was not a decision made lightly, of course. The reason that they were rescued is thanks to three of the survivors (Parrado, Canessa and Vizintín) who trekked across the mountains in search of help. They didn’t try this until about two months after the crash. They were safe when they eventually found a traveler transporting goods, after a ten day trek.

Nando Parrado co-authored a book titled Miracle in the Andes, and I’d like to share a passage from the book.

“In the years since the disaster, I often think of my friend Arturo Nogueira, and the conversations we had in the mountains about God. Many of my fellow survivors say they felt the personal presence of God in the mountains. He mercifully allowed us to survive, they believe, in answer to our prayers, and they are certain it was His hand that led us home. I deeply respect the faith of my friends, but, to be honest, as hard as I prayed for a miracle in the Andes, I never felt the personal presence of God. At least, I did not feel God as most people see Him. I did feel something larger than myself, something in the mountains and the glaciers and the glowing sky that, in rare moments, reassured me, and made me feel that the world was orderly and loving and good. If this was God, it was not God as a being or a spirit or some omnipotent, superhuman mind. It was not a God who would choose to save us or abandon us, or change in any way. It was simply a silence, a wholeness, an awe-inspiring simplicity. It seemed to reach me through my own feelings of love, and I have often thought that when we feel what we call love, we are really feeling our connection to this awesome presence. I feel this presence still when my mind quiets and I really pay attention. I don’t pretend to understand what it is or what it wants from me. I don’t want to understand these things. I have no interest in any God who can be understood, who speaks to us in one holy book or another, and who tinkers with our lives according to some divine plan, as if we were characters in a play. How can I make sense of a God who sets on religion above the rest, who answers one prayer and ignores another, who sends sixteen young men home and leaves twenty-nine others dead on a mountain?

There was a time when I wanted to know that god, but I realize now that what I really wanted was the comfort of certainty, the knowledge that my God was the true God, and that in the end He would reward me for my faithfulness. Now I understand that to be certain–about God, about anything–is impossible. I have lost my need to know. In those unforgettable conversations I had with Arturo as he lay dying, he told me the best way to find faith was by having the courage to doubt. I remember those words every day, and I doubt, and I hope, and in this crude way I try to grope my way toward truth. I still pray the prayers I learned as a child–Hail Marys, Our Fathers–but I don’t imagine a wise, heavenly father listening patiently on the other end of the line. Instead, I imagine love, an ocean of love, the very source of love, and I imagine myself merging with it. I open myself to it, I try to direct that tide of love toward the people who are close to me, hoping to protect them and bind them to me forever and connect us all to whatever there is in the world that is eternal. …When I pray this way, I feel as if I am connected to something good and whole and powerful. In the mountains, it was love that kept me connected to the world of the living. Courage or cleverness wouldn’t have saved me. I had no expertise to draw on, so I relied upon the trust I felt in my love for my father and my future, and that trust led me home. Since then, it has led me to a deeper understanding of who I am and what it means to be human. Now I am convinced that if there is something divine in the universe, the only way I will find it is through the love I feel for my family and my friends, and through the simple wonder of being alive. I don’t need any other wisdom or philosophy than this: My duty is to fill my time on earth with as much life as possible, to become a little more human every day, and to understand that we only become human when we love. …For me, this is enough.”

Another quote from Alive:

“To be affronted by solitude without decadence or a… single material thing to prostitute; it elevates you to a spiritual plane, where I felt the presence of God. Now, there’s the God they taught about me about at school. And there is the God that’s hidden by what surrounds us in this civilization. That’s the God I met on the mountain.”
— Carlitos Páez

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