Not only is today the solstice, it’s the anniversary of the day Nando Parrado walked out of the Andes after 72 days of being stranded. In 1972, on Friday the 13th of October, a Uruguayan plane crashed in the mountains. If that wasn’t bad luck enough for the 29 who initially survived, the last message the pilot radioed was his false belief that they had passed Curicó, Argentina. Now the radio didn’t work, authorities had no idea where they went down, and the plane’s white roof blended in with the snow. At 12,000 feet altitude, sparse oxygen, sub-zero temperatures and a complete lack of animal or plant life compounded their problems.

For the first three days, a head injury kept Parrado in a coma that convinced his friends he wouldn’t live. But two months later, he got them rescued after a 10-day trek out of the mountains with Roberto Canessa, who collapsed (but recovered) the day before they finally communicated with another human being. By this time, only 16 passengers remained alive. Those who lived only hung on through a reluctant decision to eat the dead after they ran out of anything else even resembling food.

I just finished reading Parrado’s Miracle in the Andes, and I’ve read an older account several times, usually coming back to it in tough times. Survival stories are so powerful (Apollo 13 is my other favorite), but the question of eating the dead adds even more drama to this one. When death comes to your doorstep (and, as Parrado says in his book, “We all have our own personal Andes”), will you fight to survive, or will you give in to fear and despair? Reading this hero’s true story prepares you to be strong – and inspires you to savor every moment of life.

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