By Captain Opinion
AUGUST 28, 2000: Sometimes we feel as if life were unbearable.
We go into deep dark funks over mounting bills, car breakdowns, a few extra pounds and poorly-seasoned sauces. Some people think their lives are over when the plumbing breaks, when the VCR goes out or when they fail to make a red light.
In short, we brood over some pretty minor things. So if you think your life stinks because the whiskey bottle spilled or the dryer shrunk your sweater or the computer keyboard broke, consider the plight of 118 Russian sailors who have been trapped at the bottom of the Barents Sea in a nuclear-powered submarine.
The submarine fell to the seabed on Aug. 12, apparently after an on-board explosion in the torpedo room. It settled on its side on the bottom of the sea in 380 feet of water, a gaping hole in its hull. Russian officials said the two reactors on the 505-foot-long Kursk were shut down, depriving the missile-firing sub of power. Without power, the crew members couldn't radio for help. Oxygen supplies in the sub were estimated to last about 72 hours without power.
It isn't known how many sailors died during that explosion or how many were alive when the sub settled to the bottom of the Barents Sea. Reports said that sailors on the stricken ship, trapped 380 feet below the sea in a hollow steel tube, communicated with other Russian ships in the area by pounding on the ship's hull.
The Russian navy, in a frantic rescue operation, tried to lower oxygen and power lines hundreds of feet to the sub, but the effort failed. They tried lowering a small, rescue sub to the ship, but because the Kursk was lying at an angle, the rescue sub could not properly latch onto the Kursk's escape hatch. One Russian naval commander grimly acknowledged that the chances of rescuing the ship and its 118 sailors were "not high."
Submariners are a strange breed. They go in for the most dangerous of all naval service and willingly put themselves in metal tubes that can easily be crushed by the tremendous pressure of the ocean depths. They know the capability of their boats and know instinctively when the situation is lost.
You can be sure that those Russian sailors on the Kursk who survived the explosion knew the hopelessness of their situation as the flooded ship settled to the bottom of the sea. They knew the chance of rescue was remote and that they would most likely die in the icy depths of the Barents Sea, far away from wives and girlfriends, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters.
Maybe you think it's rough when the computer's hard drive goes out. Maybe you blow up at the kids when they break a piece of furniture, or maybe you take to the bottle when a few thousand dollars worth of bills seem like an insurmountable barrier. If you do, imagine the terror that those Russian sailors must have felt knowing that they were doomed. Imagine the overwhelming grief they must have felt in knowing that they would never be able to hug a child, look a loved one in the eye and say they love them, breathe the air of their hometown, eat a bowl of borscht at their favorite restaurant or get sloshed at their favorite bar. Did their heads pound from a lack of oxygen as they huddled in the dark in wet blankets? Did they slowly watch the clocks in their flooded sub tick away the minutes and hours?
Imagine being young and in the prime of health and having to wait for death.
Almost every problem that we face in life is solvable and almost every barrier surmountable if we face them with the proper attitude. Unfortunately, for many Americans, our lives have become so comfortable that we consider a broken fingernail a major catastrophe. I've seen people go crazy over a spilled can of beer and over a dent in a car door.
We need to calm down and put things into perspective. If a kid breaks a chair, don't yell, just glue it back together or sit on the floor. If the keyboard goes out, buy a new one. A cheap one costs only $19. If the beer spills, be happy that you're sparing your liver. If you feel stuck in a dead-end job, do something to get out of it every day. You'll eventually succeed. If a romance fizzles, don't mope. You'll get over it. If your sports team loses, try not to burn too many cars.
If you care at all about fellow human beings, think of those 118 Russian sailors at the bottom of the Barents Sea and pray for them or meditate or do whatever it is you do and think of them in their most terrifying hours.
And if you think that your life stinks, just remember that it probably beats being stuck in a flooded submarine on the bottom of the sea when the engines won't start.
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