Some days on vacation, the rain just doesn’t want to allow for time at the beach. That’s why there is always a stack of solid beach reads packed, which this year includes The Giver, Marvel’s Infinity, and Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim. But this year, a truly serious look at what survival and redemption look like snuck into the pile: Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, the real-life story of Olympic athlete and World War II POW, Louis Zamperini. The story, a tale that seems farther fetched than any fictional tale, proved to be even wilder than my favorite wartime movie, To End All Wars, but it too asked me to consider what faith means and where we find it even in the midst of our struggle with tragedy and evil.
So much for a beach read.
Zamperini moves from troubled adolescent to crack military bombardier, leaving a career as an Olympic miler shelved. But as if his ongoing efforts as a risk taking soldier aren’t enough, he survives a plane crash at sea, battles with sharks during a month and a half period lost at sea, and nearly three years of incarceration at prison camps devoid of Geneva Convention standards. Of course, if you’ve seen the trailer for the Angelina Jolie-directed film coming this Christmas, you’ve seen some of this, but it’s still almost impossible to wrap your mind around his story. And yet, in reading the book, I’m challenged by my own expectations about life… and global decisions.
I’m left wrestling with my own life and how I approach tragedy. Do I accept it as “God’s will” or “it is what it is”? Or do I move forward with faith that the problems aren’t ‘of God’ but that God can work through them? Would the story of Zamperini’s faith be cheaper if it happened mid-stream, or ‘in the foxhole’? What difference would it make if he had it earlier, rather than later?
On the global side, I find myself flashing back to Zero Dark Thirty, a movie I appreciated for the tears of Maya Lambert (Jessica Chastain) rather than the ‘hoorah’ of killing Osama Bin Laden. My soul longed for justice for Zamperini in relationship to his captors, but Unbroken pushes us to consider something more. And yet, with ZD30 in mind, I find myself wondering if we (America, the civilized world, United Nations, etc.) wish to believe that we’re ‘the good guys,’ then it’s best if we mark a line and refuse to cross it. Can we say we’re doing that? Can we say that we’re ‘more humane’? Didn’t the Japanese soldiers believe they were actually doing what was right? Isn’t that what many Nazis believed?
Unbroken has shaken up my easygoing week at the beach. But it’s made me realize that even after this week is over, there’s still a real world to go back to, a world that still needs us to reflect on our pasts and refuse to make the same mistakes.