Can You Really Prepare For Disaster?

Louis (pronounced Loo-wee) Zamperini, the World War II hero of “Unbroken, A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” had a feeling something might happen. It wasn’t a stretch. He was sleeping in a dead man’s bunk, inherited after another B-24 crew went down in the Pacific. He’d watched sharks circling the waters around the raft of a downed crew before they were rescued. His own plane barely held together after getting shot up so bad they later counted 594 holes. The question was what could he do about it?

Louis came up with his own disaster plan. He listened to classical music to keep sane. He trained his Olympic class body on a self-made track around the runway. He even found an old Hawaiian man who taught him how to fend off sharks.

But in the end, a few simple mistakes and classic military bureaucracy sent his plane into the ocean.

Nothing helped. Or did it?

In his record setting drift across shark infested waters, Louis was the strongest of the crew members. He alone was able to patch the raft and take care of the others after they succumbed to exhaustion. He used the wisdom of an elderly Hawaiian to fight off sharks for days, both in and out of the water. They even tried to jump into the raft.

His rough and tumble childhood stories kept them mentally alert. In a way, every bad thing he’d faced up to that moment prepared him for survival.

In other ways, nothing could prepare him for the unimaginable brutality he would later face. He was overwhelmed and near death many times. But he found a way to keep going. He never quit.

So, can we be prepared?

We can prepare and improve our situation. Some people with generators and gasoline did better after Hurricane Sandy but others lost everything. We simply don’t know what is going to happen so we can’t take care of everything.

But the knowledge in our heads remains. Our character and attitude stay with us. Our mental flexibility lets us face unimagined things with new solutions. Our spirit is, in some ways, more durable than the things we trust so much.

More Prepared Than You Think

For most of us shark fighting classes are overkill. (But just in case, open your eyes wide, bare your teeth, stiff-arm and punch them square in the nose.)

But many people in a crisis find they have strength they didn’t know they had, mental flexibility and strength to handle more than they imagined. We are, after all, children of survivors. Or we wouldn’t be here.

We are preparing for survival with every day that we live. Every experience is one we can draw on. Every scrap of knowledge can be useful. If we band together, we have the multiplied experiences of the group.

You are not helpless.

There’s more to you than you think. You are more than appears in the mirror. The pain and struggle will be over. It will be worth it.

And when you discover what you really have inside, no one can ever take it away from you.


Other posts featuring Zamperini

Laura Hillenbrand’s New York Times Bestseller is a treasure. I highly recommend “Unbroken.” It is equal parts history, inspiration and art.
Photo: Shark, Kronos Reef
The artist Wyland photographed this shark while diving on Kronos Reef with Dr. Sylvia Earle and others.
Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, January 2012