Martin went to the museum on Saturday and spent several hours wandering through the exhibit, entitled Endurance: the Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley. “The exhibit was a presentation of Hurley’s photographs of the Imperial Transarctic Expedition of 1914 to 1917” undertaken by the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton over one hundred years ago. The ship Endurance had become trapped in the Antarctic ice, and was eventually crushed and sank. The members of the expedition led by Shackleton survived and were finally rescued after months of terrifying experiences.
Martin bought the book entitled Endurance documenting the unusual events of the voyage and rescue; the crew survived, living through subzero temperatures, ice storms, starvation, pain and suffering. The exhibit had films and photographs of the expedition with several items from the collection of Shackleton.
Martin was a handsome thirty-three years old man, six feet tall, with a shock of black hair which he tied in a small pony tail, a ruddy complexion and a muscular build. He was athletic, participating in triathlons, popular among the women, and gainfully employed as a real estate broker. He was a student of history and had visited the exhibit several times, amazed at the ability of all the men to survive under the extreme circumstances for so long. Each time he went to the exhibit he had another young woman on his arm and regaled to them his knowledge of the ship and the voyagers.
“Men can endure just about anything,” he exclaimed. “They tolerated freezing temperature, near starvation having to kill and eat their husky dogs, and bodily injuries,” he stated to the young women who admired his appearance and his knowledge of the expedition.
“Do you think you could have survived under these conditions?” his latest woman friend asked.
“I would expect so. But one never knows until confronted by the situation. Easy to speak about, difficult to face. Reality is different from speculation.”
They walked through the exhibit and then had lunch at the museum; then he brought the woman to her home before returning to his office to finish some paperwork, and then going home to his apartment.
The day had been pleasant and fulfilling and he sat in bed that evening with the book Endurance, rereading several of the chapters before falling asleep with the book in his lap.
Martin awoke the next morning feeling refreshed and went into the bathroom to shower and shave. When he looked at the mirror he was aghast to see that the skin on his face had turned a deep blue. He was puzzled and immediately stepped into the shower, washing his face with soap and scrubbing at the coloration, but to no avail. Now very concerned, he dried himself off and immediately called his physician, Dr. Ferguson, and made an appointment to see him that morning. He took a scarf and wrapped it around his head leaving only his eyes peering out from the concealed blue skinned face.
In the office, Dr. Ferguson was puzzled by the man’s appearance. He did some research and found that there was a family of blue-skinned people in Kentucky who had been born with a genetic defect called methemoglobinemia, which caused their entire body skin to be blue and which could be treated, only partially successfully, with medications. They covered their skin with makeup, however, the blue hue always showed through. But to have only the face turn blue had not been reported. Still, the doctor tried several of the recommended treatments with no success. He never discovered the cause of the blue face. Martin’s face remained blue and actually became darker in the ensuing days.
Martin was devastated. He notified his work that he needed several weeks off and remained secluded in his apartment having food delivered to him. He refused to see his men or women friends. When one of the delivery services saw him, the delivery man notified the local newspaper and soon there were television reporters at his door and headlines in the local magazine describing him as the blue-faced man. He was horrified and terrified, depressed and frightened.
Then someone left a copy of Franz Kafka’s short novella, Metamorphosis on his doorstep. The story is about Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman who awakens one day to find he has been transformed into a giant insect. This was absurdist fiction and Martin saw it as a reflection of his own condition. For several days he became morose until he was visited by one of the women who went to the museum exhibit with him. At first he refused to let her in, then after she remained at the door for over an hour, he finally opened up and ushered her into the apartment carrying some supplies.
“Do you remember, Martin, our discussion about the ship Endurance and Sir Ernest Shackleton? I asked you how you would
survive those conditions?”
“Yes,” he responded.
“Well, now you are going through your own trial to see whether you can endure or whether you will just give up and feel sorry for yourself. The men in Shackleton’s crew were faced with a much more serious problem, life and death, and they faced it and at great odds they survived. Now is the time for you to face and endure. I gave you that book by Kafka to emphasize to you, that although you have undergone some strange metamorphosis, you are NOT a big bug and can function normally.
I have brought an air brush with make-up and we will apply it to your face. It won’t cover the blue completely, but the blue will be so very light that it won’t attract the attention you have now.
She brought out the airbrush and proceeded to cover the skin on his face until the discoloration was so faint that it was barely noticeable. He had tears running down his cheeks when she finished, so much so that she had to reapply the make-up.
“You have opened my eyes to my inability to adapt to my situation and I can see now what Shackleton faced and overcame. And you’re correct. I am not a big bug and should be grateful for that. He laughed.
Martin returned to work the next day and there were several reporters who wanted to see at least a small area of blue skin, and he accommodated them with a smile.
He learned that small “expeditions” like his own can be conquered with a new perspective just like the explorer had conquered his own fears and problems. It gave him a different perspective on Sir Ernest Shackleton. Face the problem, then rise above it!
Don’t sing the blues when you’re blue about being blue!