The Will to Live
One of the most compelling pictures I have ever seen
shows a man sitting on an upside-down boat in big
waves, cold spray all around. His arms hug the
sharp, unforgiving lower unit of the outboard motor.
I call it “The Will to Live” photo.
With just one frame we learn so much; we feel so
In a flash we know the Coast Guard has found the
sportfishing boat with four young men they have been
searching for all night in the Gulf storm. Whew. Oh,
but there is just one man. So three have died. Yet,
they have found and saved this man. Good.
It is a compelling picture, also, because in the
next instant we understand that the young man in the
picture – we learn his name is Nick Schuyler – also
feels these emotions, times 100.
We wonder, too, what is going through the minds of
the Coast Guardsmen who are in the spotter planes
and helicopters as they look down on 16,000 square
miles of rough seas, hoping to spot something --
what? -- in a sea of whitecaps.
Is it all in a day’s work for them? No, they want to
save lives. This is what they do as Coast Guardsmen.
This is what they do as human beings.
More recently, and in a similar way, we watched and
waited and hoped for good news about the 29 miners
trapped in a West Virginia coal mine. Our hopes were
dashed. And I am certain that the first responders
were saddened, too. This was not another day at
Eleven oil workers were missing after the BP rig
exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard sent
four cutters and helicopters. The Guardsmen rescued
over 110 men and they spent another four days
searching for the 11 missing workers. All in a day’s
work? I don’t think so.
When the earthquakes struck Haiti and Chili, when a
mile-wide tornado sliced and diced Yazoo City, first
responders jumped into the fray and saved lives. Not
just police, paramedics and firemen. Neighbors. Good
citizens. Human beings. Sometimes, heroism is
neighbor helping neighbor. Sometimes it’s stranger
Then, there are stories like this one out of New
York City. A woman was attacked at an ATM. A
homeless man tried to fend off the attacker but he
was stabbed. He fell to the pavement, blood pouring
out of his wound. The video camera showed people
walking by him, barely giving him a glance. One
person looked more closely, even turned him over,
but then he walked off.
So what do we make of it all? Well, heroism may be
commonplace, but you cannot always count on it.
The picture of Nick Schuyler clinging to the cold,
hard metal of the outboard motor talks to us.
don’t know what is going through his mind but I hope
that he will come to understand that wanting to live
and fighting to stay alive so he could be rescued
was heroic in itself. His struggle to live will
always serve as a terrific example to the rest of us
not to give up, ever, to love life, and to make the
most of it.
salute the Coast Guard. Especially, I salute the
guardsmen who trained for this search and wanted to
save this life. I salute their spouses and their
young sons and daughters for loaning them to us for
this risky business.
know they will look for us out there. They are
trained to do this. They want to do it. They will do
it. You can count on it. Nick knew this and so he
held on for dear life. It inspires us to hold on for
The sea is big. Our boats are small. Life is huge.