Our finest hours

lessons in how perceived mountains can become speedbumps

Over 60 years ago, an unassuming man named Bernie Webber became a hero.

Bernie was a U.S. coast guardsman stationed at Chatham Massachusetts - just off the coast of Cape Cod.

On the night of February 18, 1952, during one of the most ferocious storms of the season, Bernie and his fellow crewmen were asked to rescue stranded sailors off the oil tanker SS Pendleton.

The storm was so ferocious that it had split the tanker in two, leaving 33 sailors stranded with nothing but hope that they would be rescued.

Such a rescue, in the midst of such a storm, was beyond daunting - to say nothing of the odds that Bernie and his men would also be able to return home safely.

And yet, the request was made of and accepted by Bernie and his crew.

What is remarkable...and what can be gleaned most especially from Bernie's heroic actions that day...is the mindset that he inhabited during this undeniable feat of courage.

Michael Tougias, author of the book, "The Finest Hour," which recounts the harrowing rescue, was recently interviewed about Bernie's reluctant heroism.

Within the interview, Michael recalls Bernie's thought process, and in doing so, reveals (to us) his state of mind during his harrowing rescue attempt:

"I wasn't even focused on the oil tanker. I was focused on the first step which was (to) get over the shallow area where the big booming waves come over and break."

Michael goes on to explain that upon returning with the rescued sailors, Bernie decided to turn off the radio that was flooding his ears with well-intentioned advice.

In both examples, Bernie demonstrates his need to rely exclusively on his own innate clarity and wisdom combined with his nautical skills, to assist his rescue efforts and safe return. 

When viewed as a whole, the job required of Bernie and his crewmates could be perceived as climbing a metaphorical "mountain."

Such a rescue...

in the midst of a storm,

in the dead of winter,

in the dark of night,

with lives in peril,

and time running out...

can easily bring forth fear and doubt to rattle one's wits.

Despite this undoubted fear, Bernie masterfully managed his state of mind.

Rather than face the rescue as an overwhelming whole...in effect...climbing a metaphoric "mountain," Bernie faced each hurdle and each success one at a time. 

In tackling his "mountain" in such a way, Bernie was able to retain the clarity needed to respond to each challenge individually and on its own terms, thereby improving his odds for overall success.

Bernie also recognized that in order to hear (metaphorically and literally) his own voice and wisdom, he needed to shut down all of the overwhelming, yet well-meaning, voices emanating from the radio.

By doing so, Bernie regained his clarity so that he was once again able to trust his own decision making ability and nautical skill thereby increasing his odds yet again that he would safely steer his boat to shore.

Bernie's story is not just a hero's story.

It is the story of all of us and what we are capable of when we tune into our own innate abilities for clarity and wisdom in the face of insurmountable odds.

May you,

in your own finest hour,

call to mind the lessons of Bernie,

in his own finest hour.






Lana Bastianutti