Nando Parrado was on the flight from Argentina to Chile in 1972 that crashed in the Andes, leaving the remaining survivors stranded for months, isolated high in the freezing mountains. In his book, Miracle in the Andes, Nando shares what he went through, as he and the remaining survivors struggled with extreme conditions, starvation, the loss of family and many friends, and dwindling hope of rescue.
Nando eventually trekked out of the Andes on foot, with no help or supplies, and saved what remained of his group. He is now an internationally renowned speaker and businessman, and his story, and that of his companions, was later told in the book and movie, Alive.
Many people have a comfortable conception of what they call "God," having been raised in a certain faith, or established their own relationship with this term in the course of life. Others have had different experiences with religion growing up, or simply a more varied and diverse history in the realm of things spiritual, and may use other words to describe their deeply felt sense of that which is the very life in life.
Ultimately, it is not the word we use that is of greatest importance - that which is the heart, soul, and essence of all life in the universe will always be, regardless of what we call it. What matters the most is that we develop a relationship with that which gives our lives love, purpose and meaning.
Nando Parrado was a young man in his 20s at the time of crash, not especially spiritual or religious, when he was suddenly thrust into a situation in which he had to examine the most fundamental questions of existence in the face of death.
I enjoyed how Nando describes what he came to feel as "God" and what that means to him. I share his words here, for those who may resonate with them
"...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 ominpotent, 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 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…
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…
…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...I don't try to analyze what it means. I simply like the way it makes me feel. 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.
…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…."
Later in the book, he says people always ask him, how can you be at peace with life after what you suffered?
"I tell them I am not at peace in spite of what I suffered, but because of it. The Andes took so much from me, I explain, but they also gave me the simple insight that has liberated me and illuminated my life: Death is real, and death is very near…
….the realness of death stole my breath away, but at the same time I burned more brightly with life than I ever had before, and in the face of total hopelessness, I felt a burst of joy. The realness of death was so clear and so potent that for a moment it burned away everything temporary and false….but then I saw that there was something that was not death, something just as awesome and enduring and profound. There was love, the love in my heart, and for one incredible moment, as I felt this love swell - love for my father, for my future, for the simple wonder of being alive - death lost its power. In that moment, I stopped running from death. Instead I made every step a step toward love, and that saved me. I have never stopped moving toward love."
excerpt from Nando Parrado and Vince Rause, "Miracle in the Andes," 2006. Crown Publishing