Thursday, July 3, 2014

Marked by Pain

Sometimes pain comes directly to us.  Other times, we are affected by dreadful pain suffered by our nearest and dearest.

But there are times when we do not own the pain outright, and yet we come to bear a piece of that pain.  Proximity allows us to absorb a small bit of the tragedy.

Ground Zero was like that for me.  Of course, everyone everyone felt pain after those horrific attacks.  But being on the West Coast meant a limit in my ability to connect the way a New Englander connected.  Yet, I stood outside of a still-rubble Ground Zero 9 months later and I no longer simply mourned, I identified.  On a solemn block, facing the Wall of Remembrance, covered in now sun-bleached "Have you seen" posters and weatherworn teddy bears and dried flowers--I could name the loss and so help bear it.

This happened again last year.  While my accounting firm was in a flurry finalizing tax returns, I heard the terrible news that there had been a bombing at the Boston Marathon.  Though not one myself, I come from a running family and, thus, am aware of the unique bond within the running community.  That bond was senselessly attacked, and I was profoundly shaken by the news.  Not four months later, visiting a friend in Boston, I stood exactly where it happened.  Yellow ribbons still tied to the gates of the Old South Church, the restaurant adjacent to where the bomb went off, Forum, had reopened that week.  Again, this far-off pain now had, albeit ever so small, a claim on me.

This happened again today.  One week ago, after much urging, I started into Laura Hillenbrand's utterly fantastic Unbroken, the story of Olympian miler and WWII POW Louis Zamperini.  If I knew nothing else when I started the book, I knew that Zamperini was still alive.  Every torment he faced, every moment of hunger, every beating--I reminded myself that this too he had overcome.  He is alive. 

Yesterday, as I was reading of his race against time to stay alive in a POW camp until the War ended, Louis Zamperini was finishing a much longer race.  

[Louis Zamperini, January 26, 1917 – July 2, 2014]

Zamperini's life was, in all senses of the word, epic.  His story of perseverance is profoundly inspiring.  In this not-quite-coincidental timing of me reading about his journey, I feel like I was able to bear just a little of his pain in a way that draws me closer to suffering itself.  And I think, in that sense, being marked by pain--however indirect--is a gift.  

Today, I finished the book and, in reading about his tearful homecoming and pondering his Eternal Homecoming, I knew I could write no review better than these familiar words:

Come with me
Where chains will never bind you
All your grief
At last, at last behind you
Lord in Heaven
Look down on him in mercy.

Forgive me all my trespasses
And take me to your glory.

Take my hand
I'll lead you to salvation
Take my love
For love is everlasting
And remember
The truth that once was spoken
To love another person
Is to see the face of God.

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
We will walk behind the ploughshare;
We will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!

I am grateful that in tranquility, in old age, "tomorrow" finally came for Louis Zamperini.  May he rest in peace.


  1. Beautiful post, you almost made me tear up.

  2. I second what Catherine said, beautiful post! It gave me chills! :) Unbroken, Louis Zamperini's story, is by far the most amazing true story I have ever encountered! He lived such a full life, and I am sure he is enjoying finally running his 4:00 minute mile! ;,)

  3. Thank you both! Cami - now you're making me cry! Yes, I daresay he is running that 4:00 minute mile :')

  4. I did some reading on Zamperini after reading this lovely, lovely post. What a wonderful and inspiring person. A real-life Jean Valjean :) I hardly ever read non-fiction but Unbroken is definitely a book that I plan on reading now. And those lyrics you quoted? They hold so much personal significance to me. I first starting listening to Les Mis when I was still an agnostic and I can vividly remember being incredibly moved by them. Thank you so much for putting them up.