Books, whether fiction or nonfiction, can offer hope, provide inspiration, and even transform lives. Recently, someone told me what she did whenever she began feeling discouraged: “I think of Louie, the man in Unbroken.”
“You too?” I asked, delighted at the further confirmation of the power of reading to help and heal.
Our conversation sent me on a search to find, revise, and repost a long ago blog.
Years ago, I heard a great definition of mental health. It wasn’t scientific or packed with a lot of hifalutin words. It was more like an example, a visual of a person climbing a mountain.
Imagine yourself as that person and think of the ascent as your progression through life. You’re mentally healthy. Up, up, up, you go, and then BAM, something happens. Your heart is broken. Despair swirls all around you. You decide to sit down and have a good cry, a pity party of one.
But sooner or later, a mentally healthy person is going to get up, brush off her shoulders, and say something like, “That was awful, but I’d be crazy to let it continue to get me down. I am so moving on!”
Someone who isn’t as mentally healthy is more likely to lie down and really wallow in it. “Poor me,” she says. “No one has ever had it as bad as I do. No one has ever hurt like this.”
This long ago visual of mental health has resurfaced in my mind because of two books, Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of all Things. Unbroken, a story of survival, perseverance, strength, and resilience, tells the amazing life story of Louis Zamperini, a man who went from juvenile delinquent to Olympic track star to Japanese POW in World War II.
“Regardless of what befell Louie, he remained unbroken. The same is true for Alma Whitaker, the protagonist in The Signature of All Things. Though wealthy and intelligent, Alma was unattractive and ungainly. Her father even said so. The man of her dreams married another, and years later when she met someone else, their marriage was brief and tortuous (for Alma). After realizing some cold hard facts, Alma banished Ambrose Pike to Tahiti in anger and deep hurt.
“At one point in the novel, Alma is being held under the water, struggling for her life. Alma thought, ‘Lastly, she knew one other thing, and this was the most important realization of all: she knew that the world was plainly divided into those who fought an unrelenting battle to live, and those who surrendered and died. This was a simple fact. This fact was not merely true about the lives of human beings; it was also true of every living entity on the planet, from the largest creation down to the humblest.’
“Alma gained strength and pushed through to the surface of the water.
“I’m not as tough as Louie or Alma, but their stories have impressed and inspired me so much that I’ve been sharing their lessons with anyone who will listen. Here’s my takeaway from these two books:
- Life is tough sometimes. People leave your life; sometimes they die. You must remain unbroken.
- You might lose your job, the love of your life, your home. You must remain unbroken.
- You will experience rejection, loss, loneliness, disappointment, and good old despair. You must remain unbroken.
- Regardless of what befalls you, get up, brush yourself off, and start climbing again. Stay unbroken.
“These two people, one fictional and one real, have strengthened and inspired me. Who are some characters in movies or books who have influenced you?”