The Good Lives On

I recently found this poignant story of a woman whose talent for photography was discovered after her death. You can scroll through the linked slide show to see some of her beautiful work.

Discovering Vivian Maier

What’s striking, beyond the technical beauty of the photos, is the theme that comes through in so many of them: glimpses of every day scenes from city streets, a look into the lives of people who must have been strangers to Vivian, but were captured in a flash of time and old fashioned black and white film. And now these people have their moment of fame, because Vivian Maier is finally being celebrated as an artist.

Vivian Maier was a nanny for 40 years, and I’m sure that the impact of her life on the children she cared for is still being felt, because what we do matters, whether we are “discovered” or not, famous or not.

Her photography was discovered because her possessions were auctioned off before she died.

Today her work would make her rich.

Well, perhaps it did make her rich in her lifetime. It’s possible we just can’t recognize the currency of that wealth to her.

I rarely watch the Oscars. Usually I haven’t seen many of the movies up for awards, and that’s certainly the case this year.

But tonight I’ll be watching, and hoping that the film that celebrates this woman’s work, and life, wins the award for best documentary. It will be a good thing to see a life marked and honored, the work of a woman who saw a lot more than anyone guessed.

This story makes me think: what am I doing that will live on? What do I do that may seem insignificant to me, but still matters, touches lives, leaves a mark?

We all leave marks.

Some lives burn brighter and seem bigger than others. That’s part of the draw of an event like the Oscars…a peek into the world of celebrity. It’s a world most people only know from the outside, looking in.

But Vivian’s story hits home. I’m making photos every day…not like the ones she captured, but snapshots of my life, my touch on the lives around me. And my work has an imprint.

What would that look like if it was suddenly viewable, put on the screen for the world to see?

I hope it would be as beautiful as these photos, and capture the right moments.

I click through the images in the slide show, and I think to myself: give us eyes to see the real, and the important.

 

How to find your iPhone, in 20 easy steps

I’m passing through SeaTac this afternoon…reminded me of this little adventure…just distant enough now I can recall it without a shudder…

So there I was, traveling down from Ketchikan to Seattle, December 19, just in time to celebrate Jack’s 2nd birthday the following day, and launch the round of Christmas festivities. It was all going so well…connections worked from Metlakatla to Ketchikan, and though I did get stuck in a middle seat on the flight, in spite of the premium price of the ticket, still…Christmas and birthdays and family…it was all good.

We even landed early.

That was really where the story began. We landed early. Stephanie had planned to pick me up, so I knew she would be waiting for my text saying I was on the ground. I thought I would just pop into the restroom before texting so she wouldn’t pull around to the arrivals level too early. I was holding my phone as the thought registered, and I set it down with my purse and backpack when I went into the restroom.

The stop I chose was the last restroom on the D concourse at SeaTac, the last one before you exit the secured area. Do you know that airport? I’m pretty familiar with it at this point, and I strolled out of the restroom, past the guard sitting by the big sign reminding passengers that they were re-entering the real and unsecured world.

Baggage claim is one floor down, and I was standing on the escalator heading down when I glanced at the pocket in my purse where my phone should have been.

In an instant, I knew where it was, the moment I saw where it wasn’t.

Let’s just say a bolt of electricity / adrenaline hit my body and I spun around like a crazy woman and began climbing the stairs of the escalator. I had checked my luggage, but I still had a purse, backpack, and a small gift bag, and the purse and backpack were heavy with all the things I never check…laptop and iPad, chargers and all the essentials you can’t do without if the luggage is lost. And I was wearing a polar fleece vest and my coat…I just came from Alaska, and it was December, so I was dressed for the weather.

Suddenly, I was overdressed.

I never sweat, but I felt like I had run a distance race, climbing up those stairs…why I did that I’ll never know, except all I could think was turning around and running back to the restroom where I hoped I would find my phone, hanging out on the shelf where I had left it just minutes before.

As I gained momentum and was almost at the top of the escalator, a man was waiting to step on, and said “Boy, that’s a great way to get your exercise!”

Barely pausing to answer, but absurdly feeling I owed this complete stranger an explanation for my bizarre behavior, I yelled, as I caught the last step, “I. Left. My. Phooooonnnne!” I didn’t look behind me to see if he was horrified for me or amused at me…I couldn’t stop now that I was off the steps.

I raced back to the exit point…the one with the guard…I panted out what had happened and hoped I was sufficiently pathetic to appeal to her sense of pity and humanity, but I couldn’t budge her. To be honest, I hadn’t thought that far ahead when I did my about-face on the escalator, I just knew I had to try to get back to the phone.

She sent me around the corner to the check-in desk for Alaska Airlines, since I had just come off an Alaska Air flight. I inserted myself into a line…if you knew me you would know only dire distress would ever cause me to do that…and I breathlessly told my story…by now feeling a little more desperate as the minutes since I had left the restroom ticked by.

Did I mention, this was a new iPhone 6, and it was in a case that had my driver’s license and the main credit card I use for everything? Perhaps you begin to appreciate my state of mind.

It wasn’t pretty.

The Alaska Air agent shepherded me over to a customer service agent, who began to inquire, halfway through my story…had I come off a flight or was I getting on a fight? I just stared at her, open mouthed, I’m sure…what difference did that make? And of course I just came off a flight…I had just come through the secured area…I stared in disbelief as she printed a new boarding pass for me, with the flight info for the flight I had just left…what good could that possibly do me now? And how did it relate to getting back to the restroom?

Well…there is no mercy in the TSA system, let me tell you!

Not only was there no one from the airline or TSA who would allow me to go back and look for my phone from this side of security…no one would do it for me. The only solution was for me to go back through the security screening and back to the restroom myself. But to get through the screening I needed a boarding pass.

The full horror of the scene burst upon me…they actually expected me to go back through the whole security process, with all my stuff in tow, and then walk back to the bathroom to look for my phone.

Did I mention this was a new iPhone 6? With my id and credit card???

I had the presence of mind to ask if I could at least leave my bags at the customer service desk to speed the process.

But no, there is no mercy at Alaska Airlines either. At least not in this situation.

So I hauled, shaking by this time, back to the security line.

Did I mention this was Dec 19?

The lines were full of happy people who had not left their phones on the other side of the secured Great Wall of China, and who were chatting, taking their time, and who had all, seemingly, brought every conceivable thing that would slow the whole process to the point of a crawl.

By the time I got to the agent checking id and boarding passes (fortunately I had a second state ID in my purse, since my license was with the phone) I was beginning to envision a scene…me causing a security incident as I waiting for the v e r y s l o o o w people in front of me to get through the line. I kept seeing the scene unfold on the evening news…”woman has meltdown at SeaTac over new iPhone.”

Well, it was very upsetting to me. But not worth going to security jail over…and anyway, by this time, I was at least 20 minutes out from the time I left it, so my hope of finding it was fading. But I couldn’t walk away without trying.

I spent the few minutes in the security line thinking through the process of replacing the phone, canceling the credit card, thinking of how I would get in touch with Stephanie…because of course I don’t know her cell number, or Matt’s cell number, or my son’s cell number…I was just solving that puzzle when I made it through the line, and I was able to do a sprint to the D concourse.

By this time I felt like I had run a marathon. I could have used a tranquilizer or a shot of something stiff, and if anyone had looked at me wrong I would have likely melted on the spot…you know that point when you feel like you can’t take one more person explaining why they can’t help you? I was in a fragile state and Just.One.Word would have sent me over the edge.

I walked into the restroom and saw a janitor there, and I asked her if she had seen a phone on the shelf.

She looked at me and said the most beautiful words.

“It was turned in to lost and found, down by baggage claim.”

Oh, I could have kissed her! But I kept it to a heartfelt and hurried “Thank you!” and raced out the door, headed down the same path I had just taken a half hour before.

I stood on the escalator steps, this time catching my breath and calming myself, thinking of Stephanie, realizing she must be wondering what had happened to me.

I walked over to the baggage carousels, and standing there waiting for me was Stephanie and Riley, Jack in his stroller, and Stephanie said, “Mom, I’ve got your phone.”

Well!

The story had been working on the other side. My phone had its own little adventure while I had been running around like a crazy woman. If only I had known I could have saved myself a lot of anxiety and a near melt down in the security line. I could have stopped off for a latte and just relaxed and waited it out. But noooo!

Well, that’s life…you can’t always see how things are sorting themselves out, and you have to do what you think is in your power to do.

So the story from Stephanie…

She was waiting with the kids in the cell phone lot, as is standard practice…saves getting the kids out and paying a parking fee, so she just drives up to the arrival doors when she gets the text that I have my bags.

She called my phone to see if I had landed, and she got an answer on the other end, just as she expected.

She didn’t miss a beat, until it suddenly registered…the voice she heard had an accent, and it wasn’t southern. She immediately asked who had the phone, and where they were.

At this point, Stephanie realized this was a situation that was going to require parking, so she got the kids out and came into the airport and stationed herself at baggage claim. Of course my bags had already come off the flight by this time. Alaska Airlines prides themselves on speedy bag delivery.

Turns out it was the janitor who found the phone and answered it. She was able to pass the phone off to an airport police officer, and he in turn gave it to Stephanie. So by the time I saw her, it was already recovered.

It took me the rest of the night to calm down. I kept hearing myself talk too fast and too loud…fortunately we had an hour drive to the house with the traffic, so I was a calmer version of myself by the time we got there.

And later, my only regret was that I didn’t get the name of the woman who found it. At a minimum I would have liked to have thanked her more profusely, and given her some type of reward for being honest and turning it in.

I know the others I encountered in that half hour were following the rules and protocol…at an intellectual level I understand what happened. But I still think there should be some other option…situations like mine probably occur often enough. Maybe they need to create a runner service at airports to go back and retrieve lost items…I would have paid someone to do that for me. Maybe some entrepreneur will set up a service desk opposite the guard post and offer to retrieve items left behind the secured barrier for a small fee. All I know is, when you’re already stressed, it doesn’t help to have to navigate security again.

The last couple of times I’ve traveled, I get this little reminder from Stephanie…

“Got your phone?”

Ah, that girl! She was my rescuer that night!

And yes, I have my phone. :)

And just in case you’re wondering…going up the down escalator actually is a great workout!

Love is

Love is perhaps the most over-used and least understood word in any language.

And today, Valentine’s Day, it is especially overworked. Love is the key word in all the cards and messages that go out across the world.

But what is its essence?

To love without condition means selfless reaching out, a giving up, putting the other person first.

Love forgives, and doesn’t look back.

Love holds on, and doesn’t give up.

Love doesn’t measure past faults.

Love stands up and braces against the challenges of life.

Love is strong.

Love is soft.

Love is amazing when you feel it flowing out, and overpowering when it comes in like a tide.

The greatest love is not found in a season of new. It can only be fully discovered and revered in maturity. How can we know what we have without comparison, without recognizing we’ve weathered and grown? And how can we know how strong love is unless it has been through the fire?

We can only know we love unconditionally when we’ve confronted conditions.

The beautiful moments make the photos, the Facebook page, the Twitter feed.

The hard times make the love. 

It is the hard times that tell you if you have the real thing or the pretty thing, the last-a-lifetime connection or the last-as-long-as-it-feels-good relationship. There are plenty of those around, and yes, it is easy to mistake one for the other.

Who doesn’t like it when it feels good?

No one has the answers, a formula worked out neat and predictable, least of all me.

But I know it when I see it.

And I know it is worth having, worth working for.

On a day of icons, roses and chocolates and pretty cards, if you’re receiving or giving, I hope you’ll enjoy the moment.

Just know…the real thing is likely to show up on a Tuesday, disguised as something not glamorous, not photo-worthy, even unexpected.

And I guarantee…the Tuesday moment when love is demonstrated, not with beauty and ceremony, but in a flash of nitty-gritty, real life, and inconvenience…look there for the meaning, for the stamp of belonging.

Look to those moments to see love in all its power, showing up without the disguise of romance, standing in the gap and holding firm when you need it most and maybe deserve it least.

We can all be pretty and sweet on date night. But on a Tuesday…that’s when the real thing happens, and the bonds are forged.

Happy Valentine’s Day, to all the romantic souls who dress up today and celebrate the moment.

And may your Tuesdays be beautiful too, full of opportunity to give and receive real love, without condition, with all your heart.

Love is Blind

Some days

Back working in Alaska again for a stretch, and picking up the threads of all my projects. I seem to have a never-ending list! Not that I think I’m alone in that. Who doesn’t have a list?

Lately my list has been a little fuller. I’m brushing off some long-unused skills and trying to recall what I’ve ever known of design programs. Admittedly most of my knowledge was via on-the-job learning. Back in the day, when I was in college, Adobe products weren’t even a glint in a designer’s eye. Now I’m learning with books, and the ever-helpful tutorials that abound online. I’m doing this as part of a multi-prong approach to creating digital income, and it occurred to me that it would be helpful to have a few more skills in the digital world.

So there’s that, and my second Kindle book which has been languishing for the past several weeks, waiting for me to pull it out again. Then my blog is wondering if I moved away and forgot to pack it along.

And there’s work, as in, what I am actually paid real money to do.

I’m so grateful to live in a time when so much is at my fingertips. It’s a rich experience, learning and growing, all at the touch of a few buttons and some time and effort.

But, I remind myself, life exists off-line as well. It’s easy to get sucked in by the vast world that lives behind my screen.

And if I’m always looking that direction, I miss so much.

Like this:

IMG_1393

Riley and Pete the Cat, preschool mascot

Or this:

IMG_1411

The boy, blowing bubbles for Gram

I don’t get bubbles from my laptop. I don’t know…maybe I don’t visit the right sites?

Nothing replaces reality. I can do a lot from my sofa, and learn a lot without going into a classroom. But on days when I feel like I haven’t looked up, I stretch and yawn and remember:

What I’m really invested in is out there, the people in my life.

I’ve always been able to draw that line between my work and personal life. I find it a little more challenging when work can follow me home, follow me to the sofa, be in front of me as soon as I click on my screen.

It takes discipline to create income out of hobbies, out of interests that have potential. And I want to be one of the people that finds that key to unlock the door.

But I don’t want to get sucked dry by the process, consumed by the ease of access.

I realize, now while I still am in the formative stage of creating online work, I need to set boundaries and schedules. Yes, I want to be able to work from anywhere, and anytime I choose.

But I don’t want to find myself working everywhere, all the time.

That’s not the plan.

Is it?

Aaahhh…there’s a difference in convenience and flexibility, and being consumed by the tool I’m using.

I don’t want the dream of creating my work world to become the monster that devours me.

For now, that isn’t likely to happen. For one thing, I can’t generate income without a regular job, which keeps me grounded and tied to a somewhat regular schedule. These thoughts are really about the future.

But this is the time to plan. What do I want more of? Endless time online?

Or bubbles?

Which do you think I picked?

Happy Sunday!  ~ Sheila

Sunday Inspiration

Found this beautiful song a few weeks ago…I love the words, and the ending is a reminder of a song I grew up with, “It Is Well With My Soul.” Brave encouragement!

I’m on the ferry

I’m on the ferry, traveling from Ketchikan to Bellingham, WA. I’m bringing my car out; my car, which I bought new when we moved to Ketchikan in 2009.

My Subaru Tribeca has just over 14,000 miles on it.

Ah, the beauty of living on a small island! Well, the miles will add up quickly enough now.

As of Wednesday, I don’t live in Alaska. I’ll still be working there on a regular basis, part of each month. But I don’t live there any longer.

It’s a beautiful state, and I’ve learned so much during my years there. I’ve gained and I’ve lost. I’ve known joy and sorrow.

A lot of my reasons for moving my hub back to the lower 48 are about family. I want to be closer, and I want travel to be easier and less expensive.

I’m appreciative for the good that came out of my Alaska time, and regretful for the things that weren’t good. But to be fair, good and bad happens throughout life, regardless of location, and I don’t want to irrationally blame an entire state for the ups and downs I experienced there.

Still, I think my frontier adventures are more behind me than before me. The work that I’ll continue to do is very structured, and will likely be time limited.

Today I’m watching the water and mountains of the Inside Passage go by from the upper deck of a state ferry, and I’m thinking about so many things…people and amazing experiences that were part of life in Alaska.

Was it a good thing to move there in 2006? Or would I have been wiser to continue life in Colorado?

Impossible to know for sure…but I’ve learned that good things come and pass, and bad things come and pass…it is my task to keep my balance, to respond to events with love, grace, and calm, and to recognize that sometimes we are only seeing the middle of the story when it looks like we are seeing the end.

The choice is not to be passive; it is to be intentional and deliberate, to be responsive rather than reactive. There is a difference in the two.

One of the things I was challenged to do at the November meditation retreat is to be patient, just observe, and then do the right thing. That’s it. That’s all I can do, and even that I can only do as I have ability. I don’t always get the waiting right…and I don’t always make the right choice.

But that is the intention, and that’s where I find myself today. I don’t know how the next chapter will unfold. There is no definite decision as to next home or hub. For right now it is Seattle, partly by default and convenience. But that could change.

As I sit each day, practicing the art of meditation, I remind myself that this is part of the work of life…sitting with patience, giving events opportunity to develop, and then choosing a path.

Sitting on the ferry, watching the water flow past, I’m in the right place.

Us

Happy today, doing the nothings of life,
Chores and errands feed me.
Who would have guessed that the simplest work
or the mundane round of the grocery store
could light up my face and warm my soul?
It is not the task that holds the magic,
but the companion.
And with you, boring is transformed to joy,
and simple becomes interesting.
With you, I am part of us,
And that is enough adventure
For me,
Wherever I am,
Whatever I am doing.

Redeeming the past

So, at the beginning of 2015, I’m working through an on-line course to help me narrow my goals and focus my energies. It seems like I regularly need to do this…easy to get lost in the options and opportunities, in the roles and tasks and have-tos that appear, like magic, in my day-to-day.

Some roles I’ve had for years, and still enjoy; they are a part of me and mine. Others I’ve outgrown but haven’t completely shed all the tasks that were attached. There are also new interests I’d like to explore…how do I filter what I really want, eliminate what’s draining my resources, and say no to anything new that doesn’t fit?

I’ve had a lot of ideas of how I want to spend the years in front of me. Given my genetics, I could live to be about 300…well, maybe not quite that old. But old enough that I should have a nice stretch of time to fill, if I don’t step in front of a bus or meet with some unfortunate accident. I try to remember to look both ways when I cross the street, so here’s hoping I have time yet on my side.

Which brings me to the course I’m taking. It’s an online, move-at-your-own-pace offering, so I can work through each module as I have time. In case you’re interested (no kickback coming to me, just sharing my resources) check out Donald Miller’s Creating Your Life Plan. Right now it is closed for new enrollment, but I assume it will reopen at some point in the near future. It’s labeled a life plan, but it also helps to define roles, boundaries, priorities…all so important when you’re trying to refocus.

I just finished the third module, and so far we’ve only looked backward, which seems like the wrong direction if you’re planning the future. But I suppose the point is that it’s easier to determine where you want to go if you take a look at where you’ve been.

But here’s the part I really love.

The process doesn’t just ask you to review your life…it asks you to review it in terms of positive and negative experiences…big or small, it’s not the size of the event or encounter that is important, but what it meant to your life.

We’ve all had experiences that to anyone else would seem of little importance. But something happens in a moment, and life is never the same again. Or maybe it is your view of life…the point is, something changed. It’s described as any event / experience that’s like a door you walk through, that you can never turn back to where you were before…a life turn.

I’m simplifying of course, and I can’t cover everything (nor should I, this is copyrighted material!) but what I want to share isn’t a new concept…this course is just bringing it out in a different way.

The concept is redemption of past pain, and how we can do that for ourselves. The inspiration for this piece of the course grew out of Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, and the work that he did with concentration camp prisoners to help them find a reason to survive even the most terrible of conditions.

I’m familiar with the idea of redemption. As a believer in Christ, redemption is salvation, and I’m grateful for that light in my life.

But this redemption is something we can do for ourselves, and it is a way to find healing for whatever has brought pain.

The idea is that as you pinpoint life turns…those important and life changing moments that have shaped your life…as you define those points, you also determine if each one is positive or negative. I found it pretty easy to define my events. There’s no right or wrong number, and obviously the younger you are the fewer life turns you’re likely to have, and the older you are the more you’ll have.

After you have your list of events and note the negative ones, the next piece is a little more challenging. Look at what happened and all the circumstances that occurred because of each negative situation. The challenge is to “redeem” that event by finding good that came from it.

The instructor was very clear…this is not redefining a tragedy as a blessing, or trying to dismiss something that was very painful as a non-event. This is about looking the hard things of life in the face, acknowledging the pain, and then looking carefully to see what good came after, whether in your life or for someone else. And keep in mind, seeing good coming out of something negative is not a time limited thing. The process could be over a long period.

Maybe you lost a job and that led to a new career you couldn’t have imagined. Maybe you experienced illness and that brought new insight and relationships to your life. Maybe you had to work through some difficult loss and you’re using that experience to share and minister to others who are dealing with the same circumstance, and you’re blessing others with your knowledge and empathy.

It isn’t an easy exercise. How could it be?

You’re asked to look very closely at the hardest moments of your life…loss and failure and disappointment. And you’re asked to redeem that pain if you can.

What does that do for you? Well, if you haven’t already worked through a process like this in some form, it helps you confront bitterness, anger you may be holding, sadness, and any other negative emotion you can think of.

It is hard to do, and maybe it will never be completely finished. Some wounds just keep giving hurt.

I believe God can redeem my future.

But I have a hand in redeeming the pain of my past. Only I can decide if I will allow pain to have a greater purpose, a higher meaning, for me, or for others.

I think we do this instinctively sometimes. We reach out to people around us who are hurting to share stories of how we overcame difficulties in our past. That is redeeming our pain, giving it a greater purpose.

But some people get lost…can’t find their way to doing that…seem to get trapped in bitterness and sadness instead of working through it. I’m not here to say I’ve got it all neatly sorted out. I battle this in some ways on a daily basis. Aren’t there wounds in all lives that seem impossible to get over? To finally be done with?

But it can be done, and it has been done, with people overcoming bitterness and pain that seem unimaginable…it is about forgiving others, forgiving yourself, and then seeing where that grace leads.

It was interesting to me that as I looked at my life, the big hurts and disappointments I could easily spot. But there were some significant smaller ones that I had never really confronted, or dealt with in a constructive way, and this exercise helped me put them to rest. And the big ones? Well, if you have major loss in your life, and sadly most humans do, it may have to be a work in progress…I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that…in fact, having to work through the hardest losses and sorrows of life over a period of time allows you to grow with the experience…none of this is cookie cutter, simple, or quick.

I think the point is to do this deliberately, intentionally…by doing what we can to redeem the past…not deny the hurt, but give it a purpose, a reason that makes living through it meaningful…by doing that, we take the bitterness out of it, and begin to see the value, to ourselves or to others, of the experience.

Remember, the point is not to remove the pain; that may not be possible. The point is to remove bitterness and to find peace. Only then can we turn our full attention to the future in a whole and healthy way.

So…I’ve been challenged, and I’m passing it on…if you’re doing some reordering and future planning in this first few weeks of 2015, look behind you to make sure your foundation is firm, that your difficult experiences are redeemed. It will be hard…but it will be worth doing! I say this as someone still in the “doing” stage, looking at circumstances with far-reaching consequences, the ends of which I can’t see in the moment. But I believe, in this context, that my past will be “redeemed,” as well as my future..and that’s my goal.

~ Sheila

Stories

Sunlight

I feel the whisper of your kiss on my shoulder.

The early morning light creeps in

And finds we two,

Curled in summer sheets,

Warm and secure.

How long did it take us to get here?

Through decades of life and living,

we struggled to find

the slow unhurried pace

of this moment.

We face each other and smile.

This was worth the wait,

and all the days of busy.

Kids and work, hustle-bustle,

life in the fast lane.

But now we have time.

And we have each other

in the morning light

Curled warm in summer sheets.

Half-hearted

I wake up slow

And remember fast.

That instant when I know

I’m alone in the bed, in the room, in the house.

But worse than that,

I’m alone in heart.

This is not the absence of a trip away

Or a few days’ separation.

This is forever.

And I don’t know how to think of that.

I don’t know how to imagine forever

Without you, without us.

We were a matched set,

And I don’t think I come as a single item.

I see myself sitting on the store shelf,

Someone wandering by

and looking at me curiously,

Only to put me back when it’s apparent:

Half of me is missing.

Unbroken

Last week I had the privilege of seeing the new movie “Unbroken.”

It’s a hard movie to watch, but an amazing story to digest.

It’s taken me several days of thinking and soul-searching to fully appreciate the story. Did I mention it isn’t easy to watch?

“Unbroken” is based on the true story of a WWII airman “Louie” Zamperini. The movie is largely focused on the events occurring during Zamperini’s captivity as a prisoner in a Japanese detention camp. He was often singled out for ridicule and cruelty, at least in part because he was a former Olympic athlete, and he drew the jealousy and disdain of the commander of the camp.

The movie portrays a troubled kid who finds direction and ambition through distance running. He was fast enough, successful enough, to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, and though he didn’t win a medal, he set a record for speed in the final lap of the 5000 meter race. He was slated to participate in the next Olympics, scheduled to be in Tokyo.

Ironically, Zamperini would visit Tokyo, but under very different circumstances than as an Olympic hero.

With the outbreak of WWII, lives and plans changed, and Zamperini joined the Air Force, becoming a bombardier.  When he and the crew he flew with crashed in the Pacific, Zamperini and two others survived the impact. The three men salvaged two inflatable rafts and managed to live over a month with very little food, rainwater, and the hope that came from remembered family scenes and sheer will to stay alive. Finally, on day 33, one of the three dies, leaving Louie and the pilot still adrift on the ocean.

But if the time on the ocean was horrific, day 47 brought a change for the worse. The two airmen were picked up by the Japanese, and were subjected to inhumane living conditions, near starvation, frequent beatings, mental cruelty.

It was hard to watch.

The strength those men displayed was inspiring. How do you keep going when you have nothing left?

And how do you find the courage to look your tormentor in the eye and dare him to do his worst with your look?

At one point Louie is told that he was reported to have died, and he’s offered the chance to speak to his family by radio to assure them he’s still alive. He accepts the offer, but when he’s asked to follow the first broadcast with another one, spreading Japanese propaganda, he refuses, and also passes up the easy life he could have had if he’d cooperated with his captors.

The first camp was attacked, so the prisoners were moved to another location. At the new camp the prisoners worked loading coal barges, and the commander who had singled out Zamperini earlier was again in charge. When Zamperini injures his ankle and struggles to work, the commander orders him to lift a heavy wooden beam above his head, and orders his guards to shoot Zamperini if he drops it.

Watching Zamperini struggle with the heavy load, covered in coal dust, weakened, almost defeated in every way…but then somehow, someway, manage to lift the beam…not just lift it but push it high, fully extending arms to hold it up…the other prisoners stopped in their tracks, the guards and the commander all stared at this man who reached within himself to find unbelievable strength. The commander was so incensed at this victory by his captive enemy that he beat  Zamperini savagely, and then broke down himself. It was a scene that seemed to demonstrate how even when brutally beaten Zamperini’s courage humbled and embarrassed his tormentor.

The war ended soon after and the captives were freed, reunited with their families and able to resume their lives.

Louie married and had two children. But do you think he escaped the memories and the nightmares of his ordeal?

The end of the story is told with a series of photos from Louie’s life, and a narration about how he was truly unbroken.

Louie eventually returned to Japan to meet with his former captors and to forgive them. The only one who would not meet with him was the commander who had treated him so cruelly.

In the end, Louie realized that forgiveness was more powerful than revenge.

He was even able to run in an Olympic Games in Japan, when he took part in carrying the Olympic Torch in 1998. Zamperini died just last year, July 2, 2014, at 97.

I wonder if we still have people like that among us? Men who can face the un-faceable with a determination that seems almost superhuman.

But you only had to see the scars to know: he was only too human.

I watch movies like this and I wonder: do I have that kind of strength? The kind that only appears when the direst of circumstances calls for it? The kind that you wouldn’t guess is there, until suddenly it’s on display for the world to see?

Courage blooms in the strangest of places. And some things that don’t seem courageous can be hardest of all.

I would be willing to bet it was harder, took more courage, for Zamperini to go back to Japan and meet with his captors than withstanding the beatings and hardships of prison.

Why? Because withstanding the beatings was an act of defiance, an act of sheer willpower and determination to survive. And though I can’t imagine the strength that took, I know the will to live is strong and gives power even when hope is gone.

But forgiveness!

Forgiving was an act of choice, an act of generosity, showed a bigness of spirit that can hardly be imagined.

Unless…oh yes, unless you grew up on a faith that celebrates that very attribute.

I’m grateful to acknowledge: I’ve never known the physical suffering that was portrayed in the movie. I’m sad to know that many people, even today, could likely identify with many scenes.

I’m humbled to acknowledge: I don’t know if I could forgive my enemies, if I had lived through that horror.

I’m challenged to acknowledge: I want to reach the point of knowing I could forgive, whatever the hurt. That doesn’t make me a saint…it means I want to be big enough to put myself aside and know: peace comes through forgiving, not revenge.

The final images of the movie were of a smiling elderly man. I’m sure Louie Zamperini died with physical scars from the injuries he endured as a prisoner. But I’m equally sure he found a way to escape the prison of hatred.

I’ll bet his soul was beautiful, even if his body wasn’t.

That’s my goal…I don’t have to overcome physical injury. But I’ve had my share of hurt and damage. I’m 54, and I have baggage. It’s not a contest…I know compared to many, my scars would be light. But the point isn’t the severity of the scars…the point is the healing power of forgiveness, the power that transforms scars into beauty.

Is it easy? Of course not! Does it take courage? Only all you have to give.

It takes an unbroken spirit to forgive those who tried to break it.

It takes an unbroken spirit to forgive those who tried to break it.

Unbroken spirits are not given, they are forged…forged in the will of determination and self-knowledge.

Unbroken spirits are not super-human, they are super-sure: Sure of who they are, what they stand for, and how to be bigger than pain, bigger than mean, bigger than revenge.

Unbroken spirits are called to rise to the challenge, rise big, be strong, be a light and a story that people will see and tell about.

Only time can tell if I will be unbroken…able to rise when I face challenges that would beat me down, and able to forgive when I’m beaten. But I hope I have that will, that grace, that strength, to the degree that I’m challenged in life.

I don’t need to be the stuff of movies. It will be enough if I inspire my children to be strong, or someone struggling with their burden. But I’d like to earn that title: Unbroken. It would be humbling, and an honor, to be anywhere near the character of Mr. Zamperini.