“A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory.”
Last night my friends and I wrapped ourselves in blankets and lay on green grass to watch Unbroken with fellow Chicagoans. (This is part of Chicago’s Movies in the Park program – definitely worth checking out if you’re in the city for the summer! )
Unbroken follows the story of Louie Zamperini, a highschool Olympic athlete. Zamperini becomes a bombardier in World War II. When his plane crashes, he survives 47 days afloat in the Pacific ocean before being found by the Japanese and then imprisoned in a number of war camps.
When Louie and his two friends were stranded in the Pacific, they were attacked by sharks. I was genuinely scared for their lives. Once they got into the hands of the Japanese, I breathed easier, figuring they would find some mercy. Sharks, the elements – those can not be expected to feel. But not all men who can have mercy do. I wonder how many times I can be amazed that human beings are capable of inflicting such cruelty on other humans.
Man destroying man has happened again and again and again: all around the world, through all the ages.
But we flock to to this story like moths attracted to the bright screen. Like souls that live in a night of seemingly senseless suffering, fluttering up against any lamp of a man or woman who lived through our suffering and maintained dignity.
We want to hear that. The Japanese could take everything from Louie but they could not take his will, his individuality.
All the American prisoners are commanded to punch Louie in the face. Each time they refuse, one of Louie’s friends is beaten. Louie begs them to do as commanded. “Come on, man!” he yells.
One by one, they punch his face and send him reeling. Blood and bruises disfigure his face. As he repeatedly drags himself up from the ground to face the next blow, I see someone I was not looking for. Jesus.
I have mentioned before that I am reading Elie Wiesel. After Auschwitz, Wiesel could no longer believe in God. Where was God in that suffering? All of humanity has cried those same words; some angry, some helpless, some confused, some seeking, some bitter.
The answer does not dissolve the mystery, it compacts it.
God came into prisoner of war camp. He lived under the same conditions; He starved till He became skin and bones like us. They beat Him. Again and again and again. Each time a fist was laid to His bloody, broken face, it was to spare us.
We are drawn to heroes who overcome suffering. When Louie is finally about to break, the Japanese officer commands him to hold a beam of wood over his head. If he drops it, he will be shot dead. All the prisoners working on the coal barge stop to watch. They all mouth encouragement for Louie. They are tense. It is not just Louie’s fate, it is their fate. If he is broken by this final test, they have one less reason to hope.
Louie stands. In a paradox, the pain is worth it. It is not about how much he suffers: because the shot to his heart would be the easiest way out. It is about finishing his Olympic race. There is always pain before glory.
Our hearts long for heroes like that, who will suffer unbroken. Again I meet the strong eyes of my King. He did it. He drank pain and did not give up. He offers a place in the race to each human on the planet. Not to escape the suffering of this world, but to run well through it….unbroken.
*Movie pictures courtesy of Google Images.