Everyone Has An Antarctica, What’s Yours?

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Last night, a simple friend request on Facebook gave me pause to consider the many wonderful ways my life has been enriched, enhanced and broadened by the tie that binds. I am a fortunate man! The encouragement and support I receive from my children is consistent, freely provided and done so voluntarily. Ours is not an enmeshed family and I don’t take for granted that I am the recipient of many demonstrations of unconditional love on the part of my kids. It is beyond my deserving and I am humbled by the realization that I am loved.

Last night’s friend request on Facebook was from a man I didn’t know. His name is Mike. With the request came the notation that we had one mutual friend. Out of curiosity I looked and wasn’t surprised by the shared connection. The mutual friend is my son. That same scenario has played itself out repeatedly. Almost without fail, Craig reposts my blog on a daily basis. In the course of the past two years, I’ve become Facebook friends with many of Craig’s friends. I am always honored and privileged by the recognition that Craig is open in sharing me with others. I am also privileged to know his friends.

Do you have any idea how unusual that is? I know a host of people my age who have strained relationships with their children. Seldom do they have any kind of communication with their own son or daughter. It would be out of the question for them to share their parent(s) with their friends. “Never the twain shall meet” is the accepted boundary that keeps their lives separate and apart. Consequently, it is with a sense of gratitude that my son and daughter are open to sharing their mother and I with others.

Yesterday afternoon, I learned some sad information about one of Craig’s friends. The news continues to tug at my heartstrings. Even though I never met Lieutenant Colonel Alastair Edward Henry Worsley, a British Special Forces Officer, I know his friendship is one that Craig valued highly. It was by happenstance and military service that the two became friends. But their friendship was something valued highly by both.

In November, Craig asked that I put one of his friends on my prayer list. In fact, just prior to Lt. Col. Worsley embarking on his solo journey through Antarctica, he and Craig exchanged a couple of emails. Craig expressed his prayer support for safe travels. The journey before Worsley was one intended to trace the steps of his idol since boyhood, the journey of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who set off to cross Antarctica in 1914. Sir Shackleton wasn’t successful. His ship Endurance became entrapped in ice for ten months before it sank, but not one of the expedition members died. It was two years before members of the team were rescued.

Worsley was no stranger to Antarctica. In 2008, he lead an expedition of four men to commemorate the centenary of Shackleton’s “Nimrod” journey, which pioneered a route through the Transantarctic Mountains to a point just 97 miles short of the South Pole.

In 2011, Lt. Col. Worsley, led a team of six in retracing Roald Amundson’s successful 900 miles journey to the South Pole in 1912, marking its centenary. In completing the route, he became the first person to have successfully undertaken all three of the routes taken by Shackleton, Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott.

Lt. Col. Worsley retired from the Army in October 2015. A month later he started what proved to be his-ill fated solo journey. Sadly, just short of completing the impossible, on Saturday, Lt. Col. Worsley radioed for assistance. He had traveled over 900 miles and only had 30 miles to go. Disappointingly, he recognized that he could not go on. He no longer had the ability to ‘slide one ski in front of the other’. He said of himself: “I will lick my wounds, they will heal over time and I will come to terms with the disappointment.” He was subsequently airlifted to Punta Arenas, Chile and diagnosed with bacterial peritonitis. He died of “organ failure” the following day. Lt. Col. Worsley was 55 years-of-age.

I talked with Craig a couple of times yesterday. Obviously, the sad news concerning his friend was the focus of our conversations. Craig didn’t refer to his friend as Lt. Col. Worsley. Craig referred to him as Henry. He said Henry had the gift of encouragement and he was generous in sharing that with others.

When I asked Craig what he liked best about Henry, Craig replied “His spirit of adventure. He was also a consummate professional”. Craig paused and then added: “He was the kind of guy you’d want to be with when things were at their worst. He had a reassuring confidence about him”.

In fact, when Craig was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, it was Henry who encouraged him to participate in the Marine Corps Marathon. Of course, because of circumstance, Craig would be going the distance in Afghanistan rather than Washington D.C., but the distance was the same. The following year, both Craig and Becky ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. Craig said, “Henry was there to cheer us on and provide support. He was a really good friend.” Craig described him as personable, adventuresome, extremely witty and fun to be around.

When I asked Craig how well he knew Henry, he responded: “For seven months, I sat at the desk next to his. For seven months we ate breakfast together. We ate lunch together and believe it or not, we ate dinner together. We became good friends. I knew him well.” He said in fact, one day Henry told me “I was too chatty in the morning.”

Craig went on to say, “I knew him well enough to ask some tough questions. At one time, Henry’s dad was Commander of the British Army. Obviously his father had to have been a gifted leader. I was puzzled. I said, ‘Henry, I don’t mean to impose, but I have a question. In fact, the question is nagging on me. It is not my intent to offend you, but I’m interested. Your father rose to such stature and yet your heroes were these explorers. In your book, every reference you make to leadership relates to them. You never mention your dad’. The only explanation Henry made was: “I never thought of it like that.”

Henry was an author. His book: “In Shackleton’s Footsteps: A Return to the Heart of the Antarctic”, had been published a few months before Craig met Henry. Craig asked that Becky order the book and have it shipped to him in Afghanistan. I guess the bookstore in Afghanistan was a little inconvenient. Craig said the book was a great read and that he asked Henry to sign it for him. He signed the book and added this question: “Everyone has an Antarctica, what’s yours?”

Henry is obviously, a guy I wish I had known. I’m grateful for his role as mentor and friend to my son. R.I.P. Lieutenant Colonel Alastair Edward Henry Worsley.

All My Best!

Don

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