When Great Trees Fall

I should read more poetry.  More often.

This poem (read below) was posted elsewhere (I saw it on the Facebook wall of Laura Hillenbrand who wrote Zamperini’s biography) in memory and honor of a special man who passed into eternity and into the presence of his Lord Jesus, the man named Louis Zamperini.  If you’ve been reading the news lately, you’ve already heard of him.  You might have already known about him.  His story has been told in book form, a bestseller since it was published in 2010, and Hollywood will screen something this December that may resemble his life.  I’m keeping my expectations low for that possibility as it regards any accurate depiction or even mention of his faith in Christ in the movie.

 

Maya Angelou

When Great Trees Fall

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

― Maya Angelou

If you haven’t read the recent news about him, here are a couple links:

Louis Zamperini, triumphant ‘Unbroken’ warrior, dies at 97

War Hero, Olympian Louis Zamperini Dies at 97  (similar to the CNN link but with a little more color commentary from his life)

WWII hero, Olympian Louis Zamperini dies at 97

Unbroken (the book written by Laura Hillenbrand)

I have found Hillenbrand’s public Facebook wall to be a fascinating source for snippets of Louie’s incredible life.  Below are a few of those that I’ve snagged from there.

LouieSombreroA reporter who interviewed me this afternoon asked how old Louie seemed in his last years. I thought of this photo, Louie on his last birthday, his 97th, wearing his birthday boy sombrero. I spoke to him that day and he was full of laughter, joy and big plans. To the very last, he was madly in love with life. Louie Zamperini lived a century and never got old.

Zamperini_skateboard

LouisPurpleHeartA few years ago, after reading a memoir I wrote for The New Yorker, “A Sudden Illness,” Louie gave me his purple heart. I tried to refuse it but he insisted that I keep it. What a grand heart he had. I miss him so.

And Hillenbrand’s impromptu tribute:

It is with tears and the heaviest heart that I share the news of the passing of Louie Zamperini. He died peacefully in his sleep last night, surrounded by his loved ones. He lived ninety-seven beautiful, extraordinary years.

Louie was my beloved friend, my surrogate grandfather, a man who threw laughter and light across my dark days, my hero, my steadying hand. To know him, to be in the presence of his radiant optimism, his sparkling wit, and the love in which he lavished everyone around him, was a privilege and a pleasure and an indescribable joy. In a life of almost unimaginable drama, he experienced supreme triumphs, but also brutal hardship, incomprehensible suffering, and the cruelty of his fellow man. He was an airman, a plane crash victim, a castaway, he was attacked by sharks and strafed by his enemy, he was a POW and a slave, he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. But Louie greeted every challenge of his long journey with singular resilience, determination and ingenuity, with a ferocious will to survive and prevail, and with hope that knew no master. His life would not be a sad story because he would not allow it to be. His story is a lesson in the potential that lies within all of us to summon strength amid suffering, love in the face of cruelty, joy from sorrow. Of the myriad gifts he has left us, the greatest is the lesson of forgiveness.

Farewell to the grandest, most buoyant, most generous soul I ever knew. Thank you, Louie, for all you gave to me, to our country, and to the world. I will never forget our last, laughing talk, your singsong “I love you! I love you!” and the words you whispered to me when you last hugged me goodbye, words that left me in happy tears, words that I will remember forever. I will love you and miss you to the end of my days. Godspeed, sweet Louie.

And may the world never see merely an Olympian, a surviving POW and Purple Heart recipient, and a zestful man with a huge heart of compassion who learned to forgive his enemies.  May they see and understand that the only reason he ever was able to forgive was because of His Savior who forgave him first.  Louis was just a wretched man like the rest of us who was redeemed by an amazing God.

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