“He was a body on a raft, dying of thirst. He felt words whisper from his swollen lips. It was a promise thrown at heaven, a promise he had not kept […] If you save me, I will serve you forever. And then, standing under a circus tent on a clear night in downtown Los Angeles, Louie felt rain falling.”
This passage comes from Chapter Thirty-eight. Louie and his wife, Cynthia, are on the brink of a divorce. Louie is struggling with alcohol, nightmares, and his desires for revenge. In the passage, Louie has reluctantly returned to the tent in Los Angeles to hear the preaching of a young Billy Graham. Just before this, Louie had said that he did not believe in the impossible. Despite a desire to leave the tent, Louie stays and experiences an epiphany. This passage captures Louie’s epiphany. Louie registers belief that God saved his life because Louie promised to serve God. In this moment, Louie knows that he needs to fulfill that promise. The realization Louie has here transforms his life from this point onward. This is the moment that allows Louie to triumph over his demons. From this, he will renounce alcohol, overcome his anger, and find bliss. Never again will he experience the negative emotions and addictions that had characterized his post-war life before now.
In this passage, Louie is transported to a memory. Specifically, he is on the raft, where he was dying. He describes himself as “a body on a raft.” In that moment, he promises God that if he survives, he will dedicate his life to serving God. Louie is able to read his whole life differently when he remembers that he had made this promise -- and when he comes to believe that God helped him survive so that he would keep the promise he made. The passage ends with Louie having a seemingly impossible tactile experience of feeling rain, even though he is under a tent and in the middle of Los Angeles. This rain is symbolic of Louie’s baptism into a new life, one that is directed by spiritual intention. The rain cleanses Louie of the sinful thoughts and ways that had blocked his access to happiness. The rain also echoes the rain that miraculously came to the men on the boat, rain that kept them alive. A new part of Louie’s life is now starting. He is born again. From this point forward, Louie keeps his end of the promise. Right after this passage, Hillenbrand writes that the memory was Louie’s last flashback.
This passage reflects the spiritual undercurrent of this book. The book carries a belief that divine intervention happens in the human world, in human lives. Louie experiences a kind of personal miracle in this transcendent experience. The passage suggests that humans can receive messages and direction from God. The passage also carries the theme of the possibility of salvation. On a more secular level, it shows that healing is possible, even after extreme trauma. The passage shows that humans can reframe their experiences and escape from personal trauma by devoting themselves to a higher purpose, by embracing a higher authority, love, and forgiveness.