What gives one person to survive in incredibly trying circumstances when another gives in? This is a question that has been asked in various contexts, among them the Holocaust. I have read attempts to try to figure out how some made it through the living hell of Auschwitz, while others did not, or could not.
I recently had occasion to think about this. I just finished reading "Unbroken", an unforgettable book about Louis Zamperini's life. Zamperini, at one time a favorite to first break the four minute mile, put his running dreams on hold when World War II broke out. As an officer in the Air Corps, he saw action in the Pacific theater. After a plane he was in went down, he survived in a lifeboat, with no food and little water for almost seven weeks , and then for two years as a prisoner of war in a hellish Japanese POW camp. Finally, after the war, having become an alcoholic in his attempts to deal with his personal demons, he managed to recover and continues, at age 94 to live a productive life. The author of the book, Laura Hillenbrand (who also wrote the bestseller Sea Biscuit) chose the title to describe the trait that got Zamperini through the challenges of his life. He was, it seems, at least in retrospect, unbreakable.
A former student of mine, a young women of only 20, was found dead yesterday after having gone missing on Saturday morning. I did not know her well, but I have been unable to get her out of mind since I heard the terrible news. Apparently, behind her quiet and sweet disposition, there was a world of pain. This bright and beautiful young woman, who seemed to have so much going for her, had struggles that were not clear to me and, perhaps, not to others. At moments like this, I am left only with questions. I do not know if other students will reach out to me, but I am unsure what to say; to them or to myself. For now, I watch from 3000 miles away as her family, friends, classmates and teachers try to figure out how to deal with this terrible tragedy. I wish I could be there; for them as well as for myself. I hope that now, belatedly, this young woman has found peace through her pure essence, an essence that is unbroken.
PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer: