It's been a rough week. I don't want to use my Celebrate Saturday to complain, so I'll just say that I am definitely celebrating the weekend, and a chance to rest. I'm also celebrating the way a great book can fall into your hands just when you need it the most!
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, which won the Newbery Honor in 1988, is an awesome book which (believe it or not) I've only just gotten around to reading. And what a treasure trove of inspiration this book is, at a time when I really have been looking for encouragement!
Most readers are probably familiar with the plot events of this survival story. Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson's parents are divorced and he is on his way to visit his father in the Canadian wilderness. The pilot of the single-engine plane in which Brian is flying suffers a deadly heart attack. Brian is forced to land the plane by himself and then survive, alone in the wilderness. As Brian makes his way through fifty four excruciating days, he learns many lessons. These are lessons that any reader, young or old, can take to heart.
On the first day after crash landing the plane in a lake, Brian is desperately trying to take inventory of what he has that might help him survive. He empties his pockets and takes stock of small change, fingernail clippers, a twenty dollar bill, a hatchet that had been a gift from his mother, his tennis shoes, socks, jeans, underwear, belt, a T-shirt, a ripped windbreaker, and a broken digital watch. And then he remembers something that a former teacher once told him, "You are your most valuable asset. Don't forget that. You are the best thing you have."
As he continues on into the next day. He realizes that he has to find food or he will not survive. He's so weak from hunger and still injured from the plane crash. And in the face of his dire circumstances he realizes how important it is to focus on one thing at a time: "Simple. Keep it simple. I am Brian Robeson. I have been in a plane crash. I am going to find some food. I am going to find berries."
After finding some raspberries, Brian eats and picks as many as he can. While he's picking the berries, to his horror, he encounters a bear. The bear looks at Brian, moves away from the raspberries and leaves without harming him at all. Of course, Brian is terrified and runs away from the berries (that he desperately needs to eat). When he stops to think a moment and catch his breath, he comes to a terrific realization: "If the bear had wanted you, his brain said, he would have taken you. It is something to understand, he thought, not something to run away from. The bear was eating berries. Not people. The bear made no move to hurt you, to threaten you. It stood to see you better, study you, then went on its way eating berries. It was a big bear, but it did not want you, did not want to cause you harm, and that is the thing to understand here."
As Brian's difficulties continue to mount - swarms of mosquitos that bite him all over, a porcupine that attacks him in the dark of his shelter, his inability to make a fire - he finally lets self-pity wash over him and he sits in his dark cave and cries for a long time. When he finally calms down, he reflects on his tears, and here is my favorite quote from the book:
"He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on his time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn't work. It wasn't just that it was wrong to do, or that it was considered incorrect. It was more than that - it didn't work. When he sat alone in the darkness and cried and was done, was all done with it, he was still alone and the self-pity had accomplished nothing."
Once he learns this powerful lesson, he puts one foot in front of the other and starts working and doing things to help himself. When he puts the self-pity aside and focuses his efforts, he learns to make fire, and starts to "getting a handle on things."
As the story develops, Brian makes plenty of mistakes. But each time, he learns from what happens and works to make sure the same mistakes don't happen again. He grows and becomes a person that can "learn and survive and take care of himself."
"Tough hope, he thought that night. I am full of tough hope."
I am so glad I finally picked up this book. As I take stock of my assets, realize that I am the best thing I have, keep things simple, stop feeling sorry for myself, and learn from my mistakes, I will also be full of tough hope.
So, I am celebrating Tough Hope! Hope you have lots of things to celebrate, too. Have a wonderful weekend!