By Lindsay Davis, IV Form
Survival With God: On Piers Paul Read’s Alive
Alive by Piers Paul Read, a survival story of a plane crash in the Andes Mountains, recounts how the survivors’ trust in God influenced their resilience during a crisis of life and death. In 1972, a plane carrying Uruguayan rugby players and other Uruguayan citizens crashed in the middle of the Andes. While the travelers suffered many injuries or died from the crash, the fight on the mountain came most from their will to survive and the actions needed to outlast the miserable conditions of the Andes. The rations of food, sleeping conditions, injuries, and pre-existing relationships affected the mental status of each survivor. Their bond with God helped them to make life at the Fairchild fair and optimistic. The survivors who boarded the Fairchild came close to death in the Andes, but their hope for survival and reliance on God pushed them through the mental pain and helped inspire their faith in physical recovery.
The survivors ate the flesh of their dead companions knowing that was their only way to survive. God had inspired the courage to engage in repugnant cannibalism. Over the course of the seventy-two days, while the survivors’ mentality fluctuated, food supplies ran out and the concern of starvation became apparent. The injuries and losses suffered by some of the Fairchild passengers would not matter if they could not feed themselves. Although most of the boys were expecting the point at which they would need the protein of their fellow dead friends and passengers, Canessa was the first to discuss aloud with the group. After eliminating the idea of eating the seat cushions and digging deep for grass, the bodies that surrounded them on and in the snow were the last plan.
Some survivors disapproved of this action, however, the growing need for more protein became visible on the bodies of those who chose to not eat the human flesh. Those who had swallowed the meat started to convince their peers by comparing the experience relative to that of Christ. As Christ gave his Body away during the Holy Communion, “My friend has given us his body so that we can have physical life,” Algorta said (88). Looking back at their choice to eat their friends, Delgado mentioned that “one feels the presence of God” (381). Without God guiding them to accept the action of eating the dead, their bodies would have weakened and starvation would have killed them.
While this was practical both physically and mentally, the survivors relied on the rosary to pay their respects. At night, to put the survivors to ease as they fell asleep, they recited the rosary. They prayed for their survival, their dead friends and family, and that God heard them. The survivors would slowly start to drift off to sleep, recalling this practice as “another way of counting sheep” (162). This act helped them to feel as if God accepted their living conditions and eating the dead people was justifiable. Mangino said, “Praying the rosary every night strengthened the faith of all of us, and this faith helped us get through” (362). This practice helped them become closer to God and persevere through the hardest experiences. The daily reminder that God would be there changed the survivors and strengthened their religious views and mental state while still in the Andes.
The survivors relied on God to help their mental strength, but they were not the only people who depended on God for the return of the lost survivors. The parents who searched until the survivors were found played a significant role in raising the spirits of families back home. The levels of hope differentiated in the parents, but by praying to God, some parents and significant others kept hope that their children, siblings, or boyfriends would return. Significant others would gather in the Strauch’s home to pray the rosary for the return of their sons or boyfriends: “They turned increasingly to their God and their church” (202). The rescue became a joint effort of the survivors and parents, but without the aspiration of finding the men whom God had protected, the boy’s return would not exist. The families hoped that their sons and daughters would return strengthened when they prayed to God. God had kept the families sane. The families who lost people in the crash or avalanche also used God to cope. Javier Methol told his daughter, who was looking for her mother, that “God needs her in heaven” (397). Belief in God had helped the families that grieved.
The survivors, whether they previously believed in God or trusted their own physical strength for their survival, now believed that God that lifted their spirits. However, many thought that without the strength within the group and their teamwork then they would not have lasted and had died the Andes. God was their teammate in their survival. Their faith in God brought the group of unique boys together because people rely on God in times of despair. The survivors thought that “the greatest value of the grace of God had been to preserve their sanity” (388). God was love and their hope resided in his presence. For the survivors, God brought optimism to the group of starving, declining survivors.
Even if they had believed in God, the survivors later questioned why it had been them who lived and their friends and family who died. The survivors thought that “no human logic in the selection of the living from the dead” would justify what had happened (389). But in the Andes, it did not matter whom God had chosen but how they were to use God as a resource to stay alive. God was not viewed as an evil character but the symbol that saved them from mental insanity and helped them believe in their physical strength. God was most importantly their hope, for both the boys and their families relied on God for reassurance that they would be reunited.
Lindsay Davis is a IV Form boarding student from Newton, MA. She enjoys spending time with family and coxing in crew.