“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
True freedom is not a physical phenomenon. It happens in the soul. Somewhere deep inside of us where there’s a bridge between heaven and earth. Death isn’t the only time we cross that bridge and reach the other side of the river. For Louie Zamperini, a POW in World War II, it was when he forgave his tormentors, the Japanese guards, one in particular, nicknamed “The Bird,” who stole his humanity. Who made him feel like an animal in a cage – an animal to be beaten into submission, forced to bow before a supposed, superior human being: a superman, because the “pseudoscience” of eugenics had infiltrated the world and began classifying people according to their pedigree. As deluded an idea as considering American slavery a “cherished institution.”
As beautifully related in Laura Hillenbrand’s riveting tale, Unbroken, freedom, for Louie, the elusive Eden just across the bridge, was realized only after he was able to forgive. It happened under a tent, where many souls were pulling for each other, through the intercession of Billy Graham. God spoke to Billy, and Billy reached out to Louie’s soul. Don’t over analyze it. Forgiveness is that simple and that powerful. Once internalized, it re-creates everything. Suddenly, every second of every day is wonderfully different, completely new, awesomely appreciated. Because we are now free to love. The demons of hatred are jettisoned into the cosmos, chains broken, locks opened, all because we can breathe in an atmosphere completely devoid of acrimony.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…”
For Evan, now a five-year-old, a veteran in his own right of countless wars and continuous combat, forgiveness was forged before he was even born. Unlike Louie, the bars of Evan’s cage weren’t made of despair and barbed wire, but with prayer, sacrifice, and love. Evan’s cage was a hospital bed. He was born with one collapsed lung and another malformed. His right kidney was multicystic dysplastic (it didn’t work), the left kidney was atrophied. He had a non-functioning bladder, right hip dysplasia, a clubbed right hand without a thumb, and much more. Because of his dysfunctional lungs, his parents were told he wouldn’t last the night.
Even before birth, his mother, Alison, was coerced to end her pregnancy and have an abortion. She was told “it was unethical to try and raise a child like him in the world.” That, “even though there was a law in California (at that time) prohibiting abortions beyond 24 weeks gestation, they would alter the numbers so I could do so.”
Evan’s father, Dan, stood by Alison and their child not just to be supportive, not just because of a sense of moral obligation, but because he possessed strength of character that intuitively already loved what love brought into the world.
The night of Evan’s birth was bitter-sweet. Somehow that night his collapsed lung healed itself without medical intervention. Three days later, he was breathing entirely on his own without the aid of oxygen. Yet, the battle raged on.
Alison remembers: “We were advised to place him in hospice, on three different occasions; because he’d had to live much of his life in the hospital and they felt it wasn’t fair to him or to us.” But, his parents, who didn’t even expect to see their baby born alive and felt blessed that they could even kiss him while he was still breathing, held out against all odds.
And then an invisible battle began to be waged between heaven and earth. Prayer circles were formed. The internet and Face Book laid the structure for combat communications. Saints were enlisted to spearhead a column of heartfelt petitions storming and laying siege to the gates of St. Peter, especially Padre Pio of Pietrelcina and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Candles were lit across the globe: at Lourdes at Fatima at Knock and Medjugorje. A little chapel in Fallsington, Pennsylvania, where there is Eucharistic Adoration, a soccer field, and a plaque which reads “In loving memory of all babies who due to abortion will never visit this chapel or run and play on this field,” was kept busy with people saying their rosary beads for Evan.
But it started with a small platoon of three people: Alison and Dan and Evan. Had the parents not taken a stand and said (in my analogy) “Nuts,” like the American general of the 101st Airborne Division, Andrew McAuliffe, did, in replying to a German ultimatum of surrender at Bastogne, during the Battle of the Bulge, then the impossible would never have happened. Somewhere, you have to make a stand. Faith can, indeed, move mountains, but it has to be a dogged, determined type of faith. The kind that spits in the face of the enemy and says, okay, bring it on – you want to mess with us and our baby, then be prepared for the worst.
And it was because of a little unarmed detail of mother and father and son that possibilities began to take shape. They held the field as best they could, but now things changed because they were not alone in their struggle for survival. A host of unknown angels descended upon the scene because of the faith-filled prayers of prayer-warriors that Alison, Dan, and even Evan will never know about until it’s time to know.
Evan desperately needed a working kidney. Alison, lovingly, sacrificed one of her own, but it didn’t take and the situation became dire. Two-thousand-four-hundred miles away (as the bird flies) a third cousin named Monica chose to answer, at least, ten thousand prayers.
Now, Monica is a Murphy. Her father, Edward, was a street fighter who took his talents into the ring and proved, time and again, that short guys can be dangerous. A Murphy fights and that’s all they know. Her uncle, Jerry Lafty, died at sixteen from a cancer that doctors told his loved ones would be horrific, even doses of morphine would not quell the agony. Yet he died without pain. He had visions of heaven that are not just family legend, they were real. When he was dying he ate nothing but the Holy Eucharist. From all accounts, he was just as incorrigible as Louie, Andy, and Evan. After all, he was a boy. And most boys, if not medicated today, are somewhat incorrigible. Louie, Andy, Evan, and Uncle Jerry would all have been prime candidates for either euthanasia or sterilization or abortion according to the mindset of those who firmly believe in eugenics. Incredibly, with a United States President of African descent, now in office, the “pseudoscience” of eugenics still prevails and dominates in our government, our universities, our media, even in our high schools and grade schools. And, please, don’t think for even a moment, that this mindset doesn’t permeant every level of Catholic education, because it does.
Hitler and Tojo may be dead, but their dream of exterminating the “unfit” is now a reality.
So, did the “Greatest Generation” sacrifice everything to no avail?
As long as the memory of Louie and Andy, and the continued fight for Evan prevail; as long as people like Patty and Ronnie, and Monica, and Dan and Alison enter into the fray of mortal combat; and as long as you and I and hundreds-of-thousands like us brave a harsh winter’s day to march on the capitol every January 22nd, the sacrifices of millions who came before us will never be in vain.
What Laura Hillenbrand accomplished in writing about the incredible life of Louie Zamperini in her book, Unbroken, was more than she knows. Although she should, because living with debilitating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for so many years has allowed her to walk in shoes only writers who have suffered can, and relate stories to people like you and me on what true suffering really means. It would be akin to Louie, himself, writing about POWs, or Andy, the subject of my previous story in this series, writing about victims of muscular diseases, or Evan one day penning a story about babies with birth defects and how to overcome them.
Think of the possibilities that may have happened had Andy lived a little longer or if Alison and Dan didn’t have the love and resolve to believe in Evan? And the now millions like them and not like them at all who have perished because of the “pseudoscience” of eugenics that has led to abortion and euthanasia? Perhaps, one of them would have discovered the cure to cancer, or one of them would have imparted a kind word to a stranger, fed the hungry, clothed the poor, or visited a prisoner, and because of that one act of kindness completely changed the world. Like Louie did after he forgave his debtors, like Christ did from the cross.
I specifically asked Alison: did Evan ever experience the supernatural?
Her words: “I don’t think so; however I can’t really say for sure. I have (in regards to him). When he goes into his surgeries/procedures, I visualize healing light filling his operating room and overflowing into the hallway. I pray for Mary and all the healing angels to be with him. One time, when he was in the ICU, I escorted him over to the room and handed him off to Anesthesia to prep him. As I left the room, I saw the spirit of a woman, who I presumed to be Mary, holding him and smiling. The room was full of spirits (beings of light), maybe 15 or 20, surrounding Mary and Evan, and all of them smiling.”
The day of reckoning for those who champion eugenics is coming. I don’t know when that day will be exactly. But, when it does, I pray it will be one filled with the sudden understanding that all human beings have a God-given right to share our little planet. That intelligence has nothing at all to do with breeding; that the poor have just as much a right to occupy a little space in our world as do the wealthy; and that the first and foremost question and lesson from the first book of the bible is finally and definitively answered in all our hearts, because it is truly placed in our souls at the moment of conception: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Sure, we are all Louie’s and Andy’s and Evan’s keeper, because if we are not, if we deliberately and selfishly turn our heads away from the pain right before our eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist or dismiss it because it’s not our problem, then we bear “the mark of Cain” and deserve eternal punishment.
Today, or tomorrow, Alison and Dan and Evan are expecting a fourth edition to their loving home. Her name will be Teagan Maggie. “Teagan, in Gaelic, means “poet.” Maggie is the name of her great-great-grandmother. Mark my words: Evan will be the greatest older brother in the history of the world; Monica will be there for them until her dying breath; Patty will move heaven and earth to make sure of their safekeeping; and Alison and Dan will live happily ever after because nothing in the universe can stop true love.
To be “unbroken” is truly reserved only to Our Lord Jesus Christ. We are all broken in some way or another and need to be made whole again. Unlike the “pseudoscience” called eugenics, which has dominated the world for the past century, we must come to the understanding that every life is precious and well worth fighting for. There are no thoroughbreds in humanity and there never will be. We are not supermen. No race trumps another. We are all sinners in need of redemption.
(Author’s note: this was the third article in a three-part series based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken. These articles are dedicated to James and Jane Galloway, my parents, who instilled in their children an “unbroken” love for life that will last as long as we live; and to the memory of Nellie Gray, the founder of the National Right-to-Life March in Washington, D.C.)