Survival of the fittest

"What do you mean you don't know how? It's a fire for Christ' sake. Kindling and friction? Did you never see Castaway?"

I hadn't intended to yell. From the moment I'd found the three damp and exhausted people strung out on the soft white sand, I'd committed that I would lead. Leaders don't yell. Leaders show their authority through calm discipline, confidence, and an open concern for their constituents. After reviving one unconscious person and helping all three get out of the unrelenting sun, I felt I'd established myself as a cool, calm, collected human prepared to ensure we survived until we were found. That was two hours ago.

For two hours, one woman had cried. Just cried. Not saying anything, just a ceaseless, low, whimpering sob as she slouched over her crossed legs. Every minute or so a sniffle and more sobs. That alone could cause a person to walk back into the ocean in which we'd nearly drowned.

The other woman, whom I'd revived on the beach, was in poor condition and had to be dragged to the shade. Unknown wounds ailed her and she lay on her side, grimacing but blessedly silent. She would lick her dry, cracked lips as she watched the ocean water lap the long, wide beach. I understood that longing.

It was the man whom I'd just yelled at and who, for unknown reasons, had no idea how to build a fire. He was not skilled at diagnosing injuries nor at identifying toxic plants on islands in the south Pacific. He did not know his north from his south and could not swim. What kind of human goes on a long, leisurely diving trip and does not know how to swim, thus does not get off the boat too dive with us? The same kind that manages to survive a boat crash and drifts to shore on the remnants of said boat (but does not bring the boat remnants to shore, instead letting them drift away to the ocean).

I look again at the dying woman, knowing that I can do almost nothing to ease her pain or address her injuries. My eyes flick on and off the sobbing woman, repelled by her insipid defeat. The man is standing with his back to me, staring down the awesome stretch of white sand bordered by deep blue ocean and thick green tropical forest. His pants are still water logged and sag down low despite his belt. Only half of his tan shirt is tucked in, the other damply fluttering in the warm breeze. Arms cross across his chest, his posture is straight, resolute.

Standing slowly from the shaded sand, I stepped out into the sun and next to the tall, lank frame, crossing my arms and staring off into the distance in solidarity.

"I'm sorry," I said, humility tasting especially bitter given our circumstances.

"Do you know how to build a fire?" he asked, his tone rightfully acidic.

"I do."

"And identify plants in this region?"


"Locate safe drinking water?"


We stood in silence for a moment. "What do you know how to do?" I asked.

"I'm an engineer."