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The ship, a sturdy, nautical vessel, was immobile, pinned between a leviathan of ice and tundra. Barely afloat, the ship lurched sporadically, caving in further under the elevated pressure. Time was irrelevant as the ship approached inevitable doom, the ice slowly crushing the vessel. Soon, the wreckage would be in pieces, and its marooned passengers would resort to abandoning ship. They would gather up their items, carefully selecting only the essentials and forsaking all unnecessary burdens. The Endurance, their ship, had served them faithfully, but now they would march on into the unknown. Like peons, they were specks upon the ivory canvas of frozen desert –no man’s land. Under the brave command of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the assembled crew would heave forward, against the grit and might of Antarctica, the uncharted wonder at the bottom of the world.
Through hooded eyes, I read of such a tale. Buried under the covers with a flashlight, I feigned sleep as I flipped through the pages of Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, eager to discover what would happen next. My mouth stretched open to release a yawn, but I could not put the book down, not yet. More intense adventure awaited me at the turn of the next page.
“What are you still doing up” my mother asked me, having caught me in the act.
“Reading,” I confessed, peeking out cautiously from beneath the covers.
She must have known exactly what I was reading, for she had ordered the book herself, after much prodding and begging on my part, through the Scholastic book catalog from my school. As a young child, I had always been drawn to literature filled with travels that could take me to places I had never been (and might never see in person), and that is why I had reduced my eight-year-old self to pleading. My parents usually refused to buy me books from the catalog, saying that they were far too expensive and something I would read once and never touch again; it was easier, they said, to go to the library and rent books, or rather, more affordable. That was not to be the case with this book, however, as they eventually surrendered and purchased a copy for me. The begging was well worth it, as Shackleton’s adventure was not one that I could pass over.
“It’s a school night,” my mother sighed, exasperated, “You should be sleeping.”
“No buts, Korellia Jo,” she cut off my rebuttal, “Go to bed.”
Reluctantly, I set the book aside and went to sleep, but even in my slumber, I dreamt of Captain Shackleton and his crew, fighting against all odds to conquer the harsh elements of the Antarctic frontier. The Irishman’s adventure would leave an impression upon me for years to come.
Like Shackleton, I eventually embarked on my own adventure onto a new horizon –high school. As a sophomore, while toiling through a new atmosphere of young adulthood and greater responsibility, foreign hallways and classrooms, I found my own niche within the world of choir. Soon, I was given the opportunity to travel to Europe with other choir members. For a girl who had never left the country, let alone the state, the prospect of traveling to a distant, romanticized land was unfathomable. Europe seemed as far away to me as Antarctica was to Sir Ernest Shackleton. Thrilled at such a special opportunity, I auditioned immediately and became one of the official members of the Shakopee European Tour Choir (SETC).
I attended almost every single rehearsal, morning and evening, and sang with fervor, all in anticipation of the day that I would depart from the ever-present borders of Shakopee, Minnesota and fly to the magnificent, ancestral lands of Europe. Letting my imagination run boundless and reading several guidebooks were the only ways to repel impatience, a phantom that crept in upon me often. After months of preparation and anxious waiting, the day finally arrived.
On the eve of my long-awaited departure, I panicked. Something inside me twisted into a wretched little ball of worries and doubts and refused to uncoil itself. I was plagued by the idea that the plane could go haywire during the flight, or that I could be kidnapped while roaming the crowded, unfamiliar streets of Europe, as though my abductors could pinpoint and target tourists with stealth and expertise.
It really was too late to back out. The fees had already been paid in full, and there was an airline ticket with my name printed on it. In some rational corner of my mind, I knew that it was impossible to turn away now, not after all the time and energy I had put into getting this far, but fear overpowered me, and I was about willing to do anything to escape. I thought about hiding out in my grandmother’s house until the plane flew away, so no one could capture me and force me to go.
“You don’t have to go,” my parents reassured me, “The money’s not an issue.”
I did not know how to explain to them what I was feeling, my conflicted paranoia.
“Just think about it,” they told me, “and let us know what you decide.”
So I thought about it, bouncing around the pros and cons in my rattled brain. Lying on my bed, I unleashed a heavy sigh of exhaustion, completely at a loss. My eyes happened to peer over at the bookshelf adjacent to my bed, and a book caught my attention. I got up and pulled Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World off the shelf. Thumbing through the pages, I recalled the epic tale of Shackleton and his crew as they plowed through the Antarctic turf on foot and sailed icy waters to make it to South Georgia Island, where they were rescued. Mostly, I remembered the courage with which Shackleton had guided his crew and the unsinkable love of adventure he carried even in the perilous depths of Antarctica. Setting the book aside, I realized that the Endurance’s fate was unavoidable, but this opportunity was still salvageable.
The next morning, I packed my suitcase and went to the airport. I boarded the plane and embarked on my first-ever flight. Ten hours later, I landed in Munich, Germany. Over the next two weeks, I saw many beautiful sites crested into the landscape of Europe: Mozart’s childhood home in Salzburg, the snow-capped Alps, and the Jewish quarter of Prague. During my European excursion, I tried to see all sights with the same vision that Sir Ernest Shackleton had seen Antarctica.
Many thanks are in order for Sir Ernest Shackleton for all that he has done for me. His epic tale not only lit up the part of my childhood spent buried under a blanket, but the bravery with which he led his men through their Antarctic crusade encouraged me to persevere through my own challenges and delve head-on into adventure. Shackleton taught me that I could do so and still make it through to the other side, just as the crew did under his leadership. He showed me that more rewarding than the destination itself is the experience, the journey from one point to another. The famous Captain can also be credited for my continued interest in adventure books. His tale snagged me into reading such novels, and the effect has been long lasting. To this day, I find myself reading literature, fiction or non-fiction, which transports me to exotic places and eras beyond my everyday world. Only now, I take more pleasure in reading out in the open that buried beneath the covers of my bed.