Humility. It’s a virtue that is sometimes misunderstood to mean that we should demean ourselves and consider ourselves as unworthy of another’s esteem. Not so. True humility is being aware of our strengths and weaknesses and being honest about them. Humility is not letting our strengths overinflate our egos or letting our weaknesses discourage us from trying to do better. The Finest Hours gives us examples of true humility in action.
Based on a true story set in the early 1950’s, The Finest Hours depicts what is called the most daring small-boat rescue in Coast Guard history. Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is your average guy. He’s nervous about asking Miriam (Holliday Grainger) out but he perseveres and after dating for a while he asks her to marry him. He’s a loyal Coast Guardsman, stationed at Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. A stickler for the rules, he’s all about doing his job even if it means his own life. When a nor’easter splits the oil tanker SS Pendleton in two, he tells his fellows, “The rules say you gotta go out. They don’t say you gotta come back in.”
Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) is the engineer on the Pendleton. Upon noticing the rising seas, he requests that the captain slow the ship or else the weld holding the hull together might give way. Captain says no and, sure enough, the ship is torn in two by the waves. The bow (front) plummets to the bottom of the ocean while the stern manages to stay afloat with 30+ men aboard but no officers to take charge. Sybert devises a plan to keep the stern afloat long enough for rescue to reach them but not all the sailors are keen on the plan. Sybert somehow manages to remain calm and hold the men together long enough to run the ship aground on a shoal so they can be rescued.
Spoiler alert, except if you think a bit about the title of the film, then you know that they get rescued in the end or else it would not have been the finest hours but the worst hours. With his three-man volunteer crew, Bernie has to cross the Chatham Bar, a group of dangerous shoals between Chatham Harbor and the open ocean. With the storm blowing full force the waves breaking on the shoals are virtually impassable. Attempting to cross the bar means almost certain death in these conditions. This doesn’t stop Bernie from following orders and heading out to sea to rescue the men on the Pendleton. The scene where Bernie pilots the boat over the bar is breathtaking, literally. The filmmakers make you feel like you’re right there on the boat with them, drenched but determined.
Against all odds, Bernie and crew make it to the Pendleton only to find out there are 32 men aboard. Will they all fit on Bernie’s little boat and with the compass lost while crossing the bar, will they be able to find land again?
Humility in Action
Bernie and Sybert both display true humility. In their eyes, their heroic actions were just them doing their jobs. It was the right thing to do. People were in trouble and so Bernie responded. He, as well as the other three men who volunteered to join him, risked their lives because the men on the Pendleton would die otherwise. On board the Pendleton, Sybert tackled one problem after another on his sinking ship while not giving up hope of rescue. His orderly, calm problem-solving kept the crew’s morale up until help arrived.
History rightly calls these men heroes but I would guess they would be uncomfortable with the title. Those who put themselves in harm’s way today on behalf of others such as police officers, firefighters, and military personnel might feel the same way. All in a day’s work, they may say. But something within them called them to enter these particular lines of work, the opportunity to “do unto others” without counting the cost. Humility in action.