Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lessons from Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: The Importance of Never Giving Up

It’s always interesting for me to look at the books I own and trace the parts of my life that have caused me to love them. I’ve realized that as much as I love books for their storylines, it’s the characters that mean the most to me. Almost every book I love contains the same character. Sure, some are tall, some are short, some are angelic and some dance with the devil. Many of them live in fantasy worlds, but others live in England, America, some in the future, some in the past, a few in the present. But they all possess one common trait: perseverance. Their lives didn’t go the way they planned or hoped, but they fight on anyway. Louie Zamperini, whose story is told by Laura Hillenbrand in Unbroken, is one of these characters.

So what's the story? Well, I bought this book without really knowing the story. I just knew that Laura Hillenbrand was an amazing writer and decided that anything she wrote was worth buying. But if you need more information than that, here’s a little blurb:

As the son of two Italian immigrants, Louie grew up with little money and an abundance of spirit. He had a knack for getting in trouble, stole everything in sight, and started brawls with boys twice his size. Angry neighbors and policemen frequented his family’s front door and juvenile detention was always a distinct possibility. His father would severely punish him for his actions, but Louis would always slip right back into his old ways just to show that he could. As a teenager, he finally learned to channel his unruliness into running. Soon, he was on his way to the Berlin Olympics, where he shook hands with the Fuhrer and was almost shot for trying to steal a Nazi flag to take home as a souvenir.  But when the Second World War begins, his fighting nature causes him to become a bombardier in the US air force. When his plane is downed in the Pacific, he drifts for over forty days in a small raft with only two sick crewmen and dozens of sharks to keep him company. Picked up by the Japanese and thrown into a war camp, Louie faces starvation, horrible living conditions, and a psychotic prison guard called “the Bird.” But throughout his trials he defies his circumstances and fights to remain unbroken.

Yes, this is a true story. A movie will be made based off of this best-selling book, and it will be released December 25th. But Louie’s life story will inspire me long after the buzz of these events die off. Why? Because he faced horrible circumstances, but he never gave up. He suffered from PTSD. He was unable to continue his running career after he returned from the POW camp because his body had suffered too much. But, despite all of that, he ended up doing amazing things with his life.

Those are the kind of stories I like to hear about. I have Lyme disease and it’s changed my life completely. I’m in pain all the time. I can't really workout anymore. I'm definitely not as good of a surfer as I could me had I never gotten Lyme. Sometimes I can't think straight because the medication the doctors have me on messes with my brain function. It’s often frustrating and depressing. That’s why Unbroken inspires me. It shows me people who have faced incredible odds, but who kept fighting and came out on top in the end. It reminds me that there will always be hope as long as I continue to fight for it.

I also loved Unbroken because of the author, Laura Hillenbrand. She has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and, because of this disease, she often can’t leave her house. She’s practically bedridden, yet she has written two bestsellers that have inspired millions of people. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in both of her books, Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the main characters are dauntless misfits who overcome seemingly impossible situations. Laura Hillenbrand knows what it’s like to be frightened, depressed, to see no end in sight, which is something she writes about in her essay, “A Sudden Illness – How My Life Changed.”  By making the choice to write instead of letting her disease get the better of her, she is showing the world that she can overcome her illness. And in overcoming her illness, she becomes an inspiration to many of us who struggle with pain, disease, or anything else that makes our lives difficult. 

After reading her story and the stories she tells of others, I had to ask myself: If there are people out there who can beat horrible situations, then why can’t I beat Lyme disease? It has always been my intention to beat Lyme disease, but sometimes I need a little encouragement. This book gave it to me.

Now this is where I usually give you a book-inspired recipe. But I’m not going to do that this month because I put off writing this post until today (the last of the month) and don’t have the time or ingredients to throw together the recipe I was planning. Yeah, I know how lame that is. Don’t rub it in.

Instead of sharing a recipe, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite quotes from Unbroken:

Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live.

Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man's soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it.

[Louie’s] conviction that everything happened for a reason, and would come to good, gave him laughing equanimity even in hard times.

Louie was furious at the sharks. He had thought that they had an understanding: The men would stay out of the sharks' turf - the water - and the sharks would stay off of theirs - the raft. That the sharks had taken shots at him when he had gone overboard, and when the raft had been mostly submerged after the strafing, had seemed fair enough. But their attempt to poach men from their reinflated raft struck Louie as dirty pool. He stewed all night, scowled hatefully at the sharks all day, and eventually made a decision. If the sharks were going to try to eat him, he was going to try to eat them.

When Louie was in his sixties, he was still climbing Cahuenga Peak every week and running a mile in under six minutes. In his seventies, he discovered skateboarding. 

I especially love those last two quotes. They pretty much describe Louie’s personality. When the sharks were trying to launch themselves into his raft to eat him, Louie didn’t cower in fear. He made up his mind that if the sharks were going to try to eat him, then he was going to fight back. And how many of you will be able to run a mile in under six minutes…when you’re 60? Not me.

But see, that’s the kind of person I want to be. No, I’m not going to be disappointed if I can’t skateboard when I’m 70 or don’t go hiking every week during my 60s. What I mean is that I want to be the kind of person that doesn’t let circumstances define me. Sure, I have Lyme disease. But I don’t want that to stop me from living my life.

Unbroken made me see that having something bad happen to you doesn’t mean that you have to sit back and let the world go on without you. It’s important to never give up, to always keep fighting. Louie Zamperini did, so why can’t I? And why can’t you? 


  1. Hey Hannah, a great post. It's inspiring to come across people who refuse to give up despite such terrible circumstances... Anyway, I like your blog, and I'll follow it by email. If you would like to check out and maybe follow mine back, I'm at Thank you! xx

    1. Yay! I'm so glad you found my post inspiring. Thank you very much for subscribing.

  2. I loved your post. I also have read Unbroken. It was great. Thanks for sharing Laura hillenbrand's essay. I read it right after reading your post. I had no idea about her history. You truly are inspiring and I will be following your posts.

    1. I'm glad you read her essay. It helped me understand both her writing more, but also led to a great appreciation for who she is. Such a cool person.

      Thank you for the follow, Suzanne! I really appreciate it and look forward to hearing from you again!


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