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President McClure’s 10 Thoughts on Isolation | March 21, 2020

Tori Murden McClure, Spalding University President

As part of her daily updates to Spalding University faculty and staff during the coronavirus outbreak, Spalding President Tori Murden McClure sent the following message – titled “Thoughts on Isolation” – on Saturday, March 21, 2020.

Good afternoon,

There are indications that we may soon be under orders to “shelter in place.” It seems likely that we will be extending our efforts to educate our students across a digital divide. Each year at Commencement I relish sharing “Ten things I THINK I know.” (Silence is golden; duct tape is silver. Don’t take yourself too seriously, no one else does). Here are a few things I think I know that might be relevant to our current situation.

1) Until you divide the last of the spices, you are not out of food. Being low on food and being out of food are different things. I have been a part of three expeditions that ran out of food. (I was young and NOT in charge.)

At the start of my first big expedition, our leaders told us that in our three months together, we would each have “a little huffy” (a tantrum, a go-to-pieces, a hissy fit). Two and a half months later, I was the only member of the team who had NOT had a little huffy. I was feeling, well … superior.

Trapped in a snow storm at just over 10,000 feet on the Mt. Silverthone in Alaska, the wind shredded our tent. Have no fear, we built an igloo. We melted snow and filled our water bottles. The storm lasted for days. Low on fuel we had only enough to make one last meal. Then, it happened. Doug burned the macaroni and cheese. NO, seriously, HE BURNED THE MACARONI AND CHEESE! I lost my ever-loving mind. I may, or may not, have chased Doug out of the igloo and around the perimeter of camp flailing at him with my ice ax. In every life, a little temper must fly. Do not judge yourselves too harshly, if in the next few weeks you fly off the handle. Be prepared to apologize.

2) Losing your temper is better than losing your sense of humor. In studies relating to “deep survival,” humor is often cited as a common factor among people who survive in extremely difficult situations. Laugh, my friends, keep laughing.

3) On lists of the top ten things humans need to survive, you will not see “toilet paper.” I have been on many dozen expeditions in remote parts of the planet. I carried toilet paper on none of them. I’ll leave it at that.

4) Keep a clear head and to use it. In everyday life, my mind is as cluttered as a kitchen junk drawer. When things turn epic (epic = life-threatening), my mind sifts things into the essential and the non-essential. People are essential. Stuff is stuff. Look out for the people and share the stuff.

5) Heart matters. It took me so long to figure this out, that I consider myself a slow learner. The origin of the word “courage” relates to heart or having heart. Being afraid is healthy, even important, but having too much fear can be crippling. Balance is everything. Having something or someone to love strengthens heart and gives us courage. Love, and be loved.

6) When things feel futile, change your point of view. I am annoyed by books that tell us when the going gets tough we need to focus. Focus may be the last thing that we need. Maybe we need to back up, or to climb higher to get a bigger field of view. We must try to see and to consider more and not less. The people I want with me in an epic situation are people who think differently or who think independently. We need the artists, the creatives, and the children, to help us to see what we might be missing.

7) Humility is an advantageous ally. The best high-angle rescue people I know are equal parts bold and humble. They are open-minded. They explore a range of possibilities, and because getting into remote settings takes time, these rescuers are willing listen to bad advice from ignorant people just on the chance they might hear something useful.

8) Mistakes can be outstanding teachers. Epictetus wrote: “On the occasion of every accident that befalls you, imagine whether you can turn it to good use.” It has been said that life tests first and teaches second. Students never see this as fair, which is why we try to teach first and test second. Our students are being tested; let’s see what we can teach them about these life tests.

9) We should make ourselves comfortable. Most of us can survive about three minutes without air, about three days without water, and about three weeks without food. Nevertheless, we read about people with full backpacks who die in the woods after just a couple of days. The great wilderness instructor Mors Kochanski described the “woods shock” death spiral like this: Disorientation plus Anxiety and Fear equals Panic, plus unusual Exertion plus Hunger and the weakness that accompanies it leading to Fatigue which is made worse by Thirst which compromises energy and heat delivery in the body resulting in Chilling of the extremities with enough cold and discomfort to result in Sleep Deprivation which combined with Pain, from some form of injury, all contributing to Exhaustion causing a sleep from which you do not wake, within 40 Hours statistically, often on a nice summer’s day and death by Exposure is the result.”

One surprising fact is that children 6 and under have one of the highest survival rates in epic situations. No one really knows why, but small children are wired to make themselves comfortable. They drink when they are thirsty, eat when they are hungry, and sleep when they are tired. Perhaps, we should follow their examples to the extent that we are able.

10)  Ride the crest of the tidal wave while drinking tea. We would do well to imagine this as a great adventure. When I was alone on the ocean without communications (alone 85-days, without communications 78-days), I could cycle between soaring emotional highs and crawling emotional lows with a speed of a Derby winner. Many of us will ride this roller-coaster in the coming days. On the ocean, I learned that the simplest things could pull me back from the abyss. One day, I imagined how I would feel if I could see one blade of grass … bliss. OK, this might not work for you. You might need to hit something. Be prepared to apologize.

May you, and all those you love, stay well.

All the best,

Tori

In 1998 and again in 1999, Spalding University President Tori Murden McClure spent more than 80 days alone on the Atlantic while attempting to row a boat unassisted across the ocean – a feat she accomplished on the latter voyage. She also was part of an expedition group that skied for 50 days to reach the South Pole in 1989, and she has participated in multiple other expeditions in remote locations and extreme conditions.  McClure is also a certified EMT and is the former board chair of the National Outdoor Leadership School.