I love movies.
Not all movies. But the well done and uplifting ones, I love those. The wisdom of a lifetime compressed into two short hours: Seabiscuit, Queen Elizabeth, and William Wilberforce, and now, Bernie Webber, from start to finish, in the time it takes to paint my nails.
I’m grateful. I need all the life-school I can get.
The Finest Hours is based on the true story of the most daring small boat rescue in Coast Guard history (Spoiler Alert). It’s a simple film, easy to watch unless you are upset by rollicking ocean scenes. It is not complex in the sense of subplot or psycho-drama, but it is a great tribute to a group of heroes who faced their fears, not to promote themselves, but to save the lives of 33 men stranded on one half of a ship destroyed by a raging storm.
If you’ve seen it, you’ll remember that Chris Pine, also cast in recent years as the new Captain Kirk, is almost unrecognizable as the windchapped and head ducking rule-follower, Bernie Webber.
I love seeing actors lay down their vanity. It’s a different kind of bravery.
The movie takes place on a night rocked by terrible winter storms and is based mostly around a Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts. Not only one, but two tankers were torn in half by the storm that night. Most thought that Bernie and his crew were being sent out on a suicide mission when they went out to help the S.S. Pendletion.
Throughout the movie, I was struck with Bernie’s absolute unwavering determination. He and his crew were in a tiny open boat, sometimes completely submerged in water, four men on a huge and angry ocean. I watched it twice. And some things stood out to me about courage in the face of a challenge.
9 Lessons in Courage from The Finest Hours
1. Face your fears, and then do it afraid.
Bernie’s fiancée, Miriam, is afraid of boats and water. When he finds out, he immediately wants her to get on a boat. Bernie tells her, “We all get scared out there.” Don’t stuff feelings, admit them. Bernie does not cover up his fear. He does what he has to do in spite of it.
2. Keep it simple, and shrug it off if you have to.
Miriam says in reply, “I’m not scared of the water, just what’s underneath.” Bernie shrugs and smiles and says, “Just more water.”
And later, when everyone around him tells him that he will die if he goes on the mission, he shrugs again, respectfully, and responds, “The Coast Guard says you got to go out. It doesn’t say you have to come back in.”
Whatever it is, don’t overthink it.
3. Knowing your why helps with your how.
Bernie joined the Coast Guard to be a protector.
And so had his crew. They all volunteered. A Coast Guard officer has the ability to command a crew, but Bernie didn’t have to take unwilling sailors. One volunteer, Ervin Maske, says, “Well, someone has to go out there and save those guys, right? That’s why I signed up.”
If you’ve never written a personal mission statement, it’s a helpful exercise. When life gets distracting, difficult, and confusing, I go back to my mission statement. It helps me know what decision fits with my ultimate purpose; it helps me remember who I am when I’m being pressured to be something else.
It helps me choose my battles.
4. So does being prepared.
Show up, and work hard, even if you don’t know the end game. Bernie had been on rescue missions; he had completed his training and knew the local waters well from his patrols. He could not have anticipated the shipwreck that particular night, but by doing what he was good at every day, getting better, gaining skill and knowledge, he allowed God to prepare him for the biggest rescue of his life.
When the time comes, it goes a long way to know that you have the skill you need to do the job He’s asking you to do.
The years of training and boating allowed God to use these four men. At the same time, in some ways they weren’t experienced enough. Just showing up with the knowledge you have is half the battle. He can use a willing vessel.
As Heidi Baker says, “If you don’t quit, you win.”
5. Be singleminded.
Once the leaders in the film make up their minds, they stay with their decisions. Bernie Webber, Station Sergeant Cluff, and Chief Engineer Sybert on the shipwrecked S.S. Pendleton, all are singleminded men, even in the face of raging criticism and undermining. And they insist on unity from their teams, that everyone around them be singleminded as well.
Though these men are surrounded by doubt, they do not allow themselves to be distracted and lose focus. In this particular situation, it was key.
If any of them had wavered, many men would have died.
6. Courage doesn’t come from our peers.
The men at Chatham Station tell Bernie that he should pretend to follow Cluff’s commands, to motor around the harbor, and then come back in and say he couldn’t get out. Bernie tells them thank you.
And then he goes out anyway.
As Praying Medic said to me recently, “Most friendships are temporary. I can’t change what I believe just because a friend asks me to.”
7. At the same time, it helps to have at least one person that believes in you.
Chatham Bar, a shallow sandbar off the coast, was also known as “The Graveyard of the Atlantic.” It was difficult to cross, especially in a storm. Bernie pauses when they reach the Bar and looks at the huge waves crashing toward them. Engineman Andy Fitzgerald calls out, “We got faith in you, Skip! Anytime you’re ready you just go, ok, Bernie?!”
Bernie wants to go, but he is unsure at times. He knows what is at stake, and he knows his decisions put his crew at risk. Fitzgerald’s cheering strengthens Bernies’s resolve.
Courage doesn’t come from friends, but believing in each other goes a long way to bolster courage.
8. Don’t give fear center stage.
On the S.S. Pendleton, Chief Engineer Sybert plans to run the ship aground and wait for help. Another sailor, Brown, berates him and questions his decision, implying that he cares more about the ship than saving the men. Sybert replies, “I got a life, same as you. I’m scared, too, Brown. Just don’t see the point in sitting around and talking about it.”
At the same time, on the Coast Guard boat, Richie Livesey is shouting at Bernie everything that is wrong, that they should go back. But Bernie already knows that they are in danger, that they have lost their compass, that the storm is getting worse. When Fitzgerald hears Livesey, he goes from supporting Bernie to agreeing with Livesey, “Maybe Richie’s right! Maybe we should just go back!”
Once spoken, Richie’s doubt becomes contagious.
It’s the only time Bernie shouts. He will not listen to doubt or make a decision based on fear. “We aren’t giving up on ’em! Not on my watch!”
Don’t give fear all the air time. Give hope the sound instead.
9. Faith, not luck, is on your side.
The men on the S.S. Pendletion pray when the ship is torn in two. Later Brown yells at Sybert, “This ship is just bad luck!” Sybert replies, “It’s got nothing to do with luck.”
Bernie Webber’s father was a pastor, and Bernie considered the ministry before he joined the Coast Guard. Bernie always said about that night, “The Lord’s hand was on my shoulder.” (ChristianNews.net)
In one of the few scenes that is not completely true to the story, Fitzgerald sings an old sailor song, and all the men join in, a sign of solidarity and a way to strengthen themselves. In reality, they did sing, but not a sea shanty. They sang the old hymn, Rock of Ages.
Bernie had a strong inner life. He leaned on faith to do the impossible.
One last thing that struck me as I researched this rescue was the absolute humility of these men. Bernie always gave credit to the whole crew, even refusing a gold medal unless the crew received the same honor. One of the men’s wives didn’t know the full story of the rescue until years later. They chose bravery and self sacrifice, it was how they saw themselves. And then they just lived it, without asking for glory.
It’s a beautiful story.
If you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear what you learned from this film in the comments.
If you haven’t, it’s on Netflix right now.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for his friends. Jn15:13
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves. Phil2:3
I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle–victorious. ~Vince Lombardi