Time, a very good healer, has a put a veil over my worst memories and sorrows. I now remember the most awful parts of our ordeal almost as though I had read about them in a book.
But when I first returned I realized that the Andes had affected me more than I thought. I saw there was no way to pretend it had not happened, and I tried to learn from the experience. This changed my life dramatically.
My familiy life was destroyed when my mother and sister died in the accident. When I returned home, I had the strange experience of observing what would have happened if I actually had died. Arriving at my house almost three months after the crash, I found that my clothes had been given away, my room taken by my elder sister, who had moved in with her family, my posters and photographs had been removed from the walls, and my motorbike had been sold. There was no trace of me, except for some photograhps in the living room and in my father´s study.
A couple of days after my return, I went to the same pizza place that I used to frequent before the accident. All the young people were astonished to see me. They asked for autographs, and the owner did not charge me. I was the same person, but something had changed in the way everybody saw me.
Before the crash my mind was filled with my studies in business administration, but as soon as I came back I found that I had to exchange my studies for everyday work. Our family business organization had nearly been destroyed, since my mother had taken care of half the work. When you are young, you feel immortal. There is nothing that can modify or destroy you. Through our painful experience I learned that life is linked to death, that these are the only realities of our existence. You are born and you will die someday… In between, nobody knows. There are some things I have thought deeply about over the years, my thoughts influenced by the Andes experience. I am sure it is the same for the other survivors.
These things are: FAMILY, CONFIDENCE and FRIENDSHIP.
All through the seventy-two days we spent in the mountains, there was absolutely nothing to which we could attach ourselves. Everything had lost its meaning. There was no future, no hope. Studies, work, material things: nothing had any value.
But omnipresent in everyone was the need of family affection. Our desire to feel secure in a family and our need to feel and give the love of a family were the only things that kept us going. So now, after having experienced a human situation where our limits of physical and mental suffering were constantly reached and even exceeded, I have come to understand that FAMILY is what made us survive.
Our lives honor this fact. I am extremely happy just to be able to put my daughters to bed every night. This realization has not taken away from my work or “success” in life. I am the CEO of six companies, but ther is no business meeting or commercial activity that I would not exchange for the moments of hapiness I have had with Veronique and my children.
I have learned that moments do not repeat themselves, but the next time I am dying I know what I will be remembering: my affections and love, not my businesses, cars, contracts, bank loans, earnings, faxes, airports…
Another thing I am certain was influenced by the Andes experience was my personal CONFIDENCE.
I have been able to make decisions quite easily in many aspects of life and work because of something that happened in the mountains. When I was at the top of an 18.