Last week, a plane bound from South Africa to Libya crashed just as it was about to land at Tripoli International Airport. More than 100 passengers and crew died; the only survivor was a nine-year-old Dutch boy named Ruben van Assouw. This week, in the Los Angeles Times, Norman Ollestad writes a column for Ruben that's moving in its simplicity. Ollestad's story is amazing: at age 11, he was the only survivor of a crash that killed his father, his father's girlfriend, and the pilot of their plane. Stranded on a mountain, the young Norman had to climb down by himself. His advice to Ruben--"from one crash survivor to another"--should be read in full, but here are a few of the highlights:
ON HOW HE STAYED ALIVE
My father had spent years teaching me to stay calm under pressure — "cool in the pocket" as they say in football and surfing — and I understood ice, snow and mountainous terrain from skiing the backcountry with him. Ruben won't have any concrete explanation for his survival to lean on.
ON THE IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH
I went right back to school and tried to wheedle my way back into my old life by playing with friends. I ignored or made light of inquiries about the crash. Each and every day, I spent most of my time and energy protecting myself from facing what I'd been through.
ON SLOWLY WORKING THROUGH THE TRAUMA
It started to wear on me. And this is something Ruben will have to deal with. He'll have to do something with the pain and the grief. Luckily, I got back into surfing, the sport my father taught me to love. ... Gradually there evolved a silver lining: Surfing, riding waves, this skill he'd taught me, this gift, was keeping him alive in some way, allowing him to continue to be there for me.
I anticipate that Ruben will be encouraged to process the grief and pain with a therapist. In my time, it was not as embraced as it is today, and I believe I could have greatly benefited from psychotherapy. Not until I was 29 years old did I finally seek counseling, and it really helped me heal, because surfing could only take me so far.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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