Louis (Louie) Zamperini deeply understands the transformative power of hope to make us better, not bitter.
Zamperini, a former Olympic distance runner, joined the military in the 1940’s so he could do his part to defend freedom and defeat our nation’s enemies. Shortly into his tour of duty in the Pacific, Louie was shot down in his B-24 bomber, the Green Hornet.
For weeks the survivors of the crash floated, followed by sharks, surviving on rainwater and the few fish and birds they could catch. On the twenty-seventh day afloat, a plane appeared. Louie enthusiastically fired flares, and the plane turned toward them. But the promise of rescue quickly turned into another struggle for survival as the aircraft turned out to be a Japanese bomber.
As the enemy plane fired machine guns at the castaways, Louie leaped overboard. He had to kick and punch the circling sharks to keep them away until the firing from the enemy plane stopped and he could climb back up onto the raft. Over and over the Japanese bomber returned to strafe the men, sending Louie back into the shark-infested water.
After drifting for an incredible forty-seven days, he was eventually captured by the very enemy he had set out to fight. For the next two years, Louie was held in a tiny, filthy cell and subjected to scores of medical experiments, repeatedly starved, beaten and interrogated. He was eventually transferred to a prison camp in Japan, where he was encountered a monstrous guard known as the Bird.
Fixated on breaking the famous former Olympian, the Bird beat Louie relentlessly and forced him to do slave labor. After relentless abuse at the hands of his attacker, Louie reached the end of his endurance. With his dignity destroyed and his will fading, he prayed for rescue.
When the atomic bombs ended the war, the Bird fled to escape war-crimes trials, and Louie was saved from almost certain death. But he came home a broken, bitter man.
Louie returned to California a national hero. He married a beautiful woman named Cynthia, but even her love couldn’t blot out the memories of the nightmare he had experienced at the hand of his captors. He sought solace in running, but an ankle injury, incurred in POW camp and exacerbated by the Bird’s beatings, hampered him. Just as he was reaching Olympic form again, his ankle failed. His athletic career was finished. Weighed down by an almost uncontrollable sense of anger and ever present state of bitterness, Louie was cast into another prison of sorts—this time by alcohol.
For years, Louie struggled. His inability to shed his past hurts or subdue his ever-present fear led him deeper into despair; ultimately, pushing him to the brink of losing everything: His wife, his child, and even his life. Yet, he endured. In fact, he not only survived, he went on to subsequently thrive, restoring a broken marriage, building a successful business and, most importantly, discovering the power of hope, that unseen commodity that brings comfort to our aching souls and brings light into even the darkest moments of our lives.
Hope has been described in many ways. To some, it is the promise of future good. To others, it is the ability to persevere and prevail no matter how daunting life’s storms. Yet others equate hope to merely a fanciful wish.
In his personal memoir, Devil at my Heels, Zamperini attributes his ability to bounce back, to successfully navigate the storms of his life, to a single primary virtue. : “…a part of you still believes you can fight and survive no matter what your mind knows. It’s not so strange. Where there’s still life, there’s still hope.” In other words, hope is a gift to the world, always available for the taking.
To me, hope is an amazing and necessary force for good that points our imagination toward positive things. It’s a word that explodes with confidence to believe in something bigger than ourselves. It is, as Louie Zamperini discovered first hand, “an unseen commodity that pays dividends while we still live.”
If we are careful to pay attention, we can actually see hope all around us. For example:
Hope is seen in the sprouting seedling that shoots up from the crevasse of a massive rock;
Hope is heard in the cry of a newborn baby once tightly bound and now liberated to grow into the fullness of its potential;
Hope is seen in the promise of a new day by the rising of the morning sun;
Hope is heard in the voices of those who speak on behalf of the marginalized, the poor and all those powerless to change their current circumstances;
Hope is seen in the eyes of addicts who finally kick their habits; in the face of the couple committed to saving their troubled marriage; and in the example of your neighbor who chooses to fight back against a devastating (and potentially deadly) medical diagnosis.
Hope, the promise of future good, is all around us. It is priceless and free for the taking. All we have to do is learn to pay attention.
For decades, the world has marveled at a once crown jewel known as the Hope Diamond. This dazzling, blue, 45-carat gem with an estimated value of $250 million is a truly one-of-a-kind treasure. Its last owner chose to donate the historic treasure to the Smithsonian Museum as “a gift to the world,” where today it sits encased behind thick bulletproof glass.
The question I have for you is, are you freely sharing the gift of hope with the world or are you too keeping it locked up, inaccessible, untouchable where nobody can see it? Are you holding on to past hurts, obsessed by destructive thoughts and convinced your future is only filled with more disappointment and despair?
There is an old Scottish proverb which states, “Were it not for hope, the heart would break.” These wise words are designed to remind us we can remain bitter or choose to become better. My hope for you is you will discover the same truth Louis Zamperini discovered for himself. Namely, hope is a key that unlocks the heart of a better you. It is an invaluable and amazing treasure designed to be shared. And the best part of all, it is available, free of charge.
Why not get yourself some hope. I promise, everyone around you, be it in your home, workplace, worship space, or community, will be better for your choosing to do so.
No one more so than you.