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The Dirge

Updated: May 8, 2020

When I read Alfred Lansing's account of the voyage of the SS Endurance, I was struck by how Shackleton's journey was rife with uncanny occurrences. There were moments when this real life story almost seemed like a dramatic opera. This painting is about one of those surreal moments as the ship was beginning to sink, where life seemed stranger than fiction.

“Late in the evening, the men on deck saw a band of about ten emperor penguins; they waddled slowly up toward the ship, then stopped a short distance away. Emperors, singly or in pairs, were a common sight, but nobody had ever seen so large a group before. The penguins stood for a moment watching the tortured ship, then raised their heads and uttered a series of weird, mournful, dirgelike cries. It was all the more eerie because none of the men—not even the Antarctic veterans among them—had ever before heard penguins voice anything except for the most elemental croaking sorts of noises.”

-Alfred Lansing, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

If you feel like your ship in life is starting to sink, remember these words:

"Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be." -John Wooden

When Shackleton's ship started to sink, he rerouted his plans. He took a failure and turned it into one of the greatest stories of heroism in leadership ever told.

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