Happy unflinching New Year: A lesson from Arctic

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Opinion: As we enter the New Year in these difficult times, survival means doing onto others as we would have them do onto us.

When I think back on life before COVID19 it seems like one big party.

I went where I wanted, when I wanted. I would meet people in coffee places, bars, homes, jails and in my church. A few times a year I would get onto a plane. Aside from having to save money and travel points, visiting family out of province was no big deal.

Things have changed. A niece of mine has COVID-19. Likely you know someone in your circles who has been infected or is now ill with it.

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You may have tested positive yourself and have experienced all the repercussions that follow from that. A father-in-law to one of my family members has died, and, again, it is likely that you also have a connection with a COVID-related death.

At the very least, it is safe to say that everyone has felt the non-health-related impacts of the virus. Masks, face shields, virtual ending of air travel, provincial lockdowns, self-isolation in apartment buildings, working from home, closure of classrooms, pubs and meeting places, unemployment, drawing of government benefits — all that and more are part of our current reality.

My niece is a care worker in a hospital for seniors. One of my sons is a doctor. A sister works in a seniors’ residence. I think how tempting it would be to find a way to opt out off anxiety-producing professions like theirs. I myself am still called upon to support people in long-term care and correctional custody. I sometimes wonder if I should not take the option of avoiding those situations.

And who doesn’t want to say good riddance to itchy masks, fogged up glasses, and restrictions on who to meet? Who doesn’t want to do away with limits on shopping and eating out?

During the pandemic, it seems that we must become unflinching. We must become determined to do what it is we have to do, not just for our own selves, but for the good of the other person.

A 2018 movie called Arctic at first might look like a low budget survival story. You can imagine film company execs wondering how they can make a film with almost no spoken parts, just two actors, one of them asleep all the time (plus a few bit add-ons), a couple of polar bear cameos, snow, some rocks and a precrashed single engine plane. But the number of actors and the set requirements are not what I want to comment about.

The point I want to make is that the film is less about survival and more about the demand that life sometimes places on us, the demand to be unflinching in doing the right thing.

Actually, I'd like to put it another way. It isn’t that life demands that we do the right thing. That would be an overly abstract way of putting it. Life doesn’t impose demands on us because an abstract idea doesn’t make demands. It’s other people that do. Or better yet, it is God.

It is God because sometimes we have to do the right thing even when no other human is looking. Even when they are, they might not be aware of us, or they might not live long enough to realize what we are doing for them.

The main character in Arctic, Overgard (Mads Mikkelson), is stranded after crash landing in someplace very cold and snowy. Survival, yes. He endures on a diet of near-frozen fish for some time. But then something changes.

A helicopter smashes up right in front of him during a very gusty day. For a moment, he is stunned. But then he leaps into action. He can’t save one of the pilots, but the other (Maria Thelma Smaradottir), survives.

Thanks to the crashed helicopter, Overgard now has a better map and can see his way to a seasonal station. He devises a plan to leave.

But what about the pilot? She is unconscious nearly all the time. She might not recover from her injuries. She is a dead weight as far as mobility is concerned. The trip out will be barely survivable, if at all. Overgard has to ask himself whether he will take her with him

At some point while they are still in the camp, he fires up the heating stove he found in the helicopter. Who is going to get the first hot noodle and fish soup?

The journey to the seasonal camp is torturous and eternal. At one point, Overgard encounters a huge rock pile blocking the way. He climbs it. From the top of the climb he can see a vast unbroken stretch, an apparently clear path to his destination. How tempting to leave behind the pilot who likely will not survive anyway — how tempting because to bring her up the rock fall will require Herculean determination.

Overgard’s hands are cold and he risks frostbite. Already the cold has claimed some of his toes. Will he leave the gloves on the pilot’s hands?

Maybe Overgard is influenced by the fact that the pilot was trying to rescue him. Maybe he is impacted by the photo of her with her husband and child. Maybe he can’t abandon this human being because her survival is what gives his own life the only meaning left to him in the unrelenting, death-dealing torrent of cold.

He has to find within himself the ability to unflinchingly choose the good, to risk his own survival, so that, possibly, his new companion will live.

Jesus teaches, do for your neighbour what you would want done for you. The command is grounded in the granite-solid will of God. He might recommend Arctic as an illustration of what he means. In these COVID times, this teaching is words to live by. In all times actually.

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.