Theology Pub

“I am pro-life!”

“So am I.  Abortion is murder!”

“But I am pro ALL life.  I am opposed to the death penalty!”

“Wait a minute; I mean innocent life.  Justice requires the death of a murderer.”

“Taking the life of anybody once they no longer present a threat is not justice.  It’s murder.”

“Why are you just extending this conversation to human life?  Animals were created by God too.  How can you eat factory farmed animals who are killed after their miserable lives in the most hideous manner and call yourself pro-lift?”

So the conversation would proceed at Theology Pub.  Theo Pub was a two year experiment in diversity which was sponsored by my church in Vancouver Washington.  We met at a pub, The Brickhouse,” and enjoyed wonderful pub grub and a dizzying list of beers, wines and spirits while we discussed every imaginable topic.  the idea was to speak honestly, and sometimes with heat, but always with respect and love for our partners at the table.  People of other faiths and of no faith were invited, and the rules were the same: love each other and  ‘splain yourself.

I was asked by a person at work why a church group would meet in a bar.  “Because that’s where they serve alcohol” was my response.  We explored evolution, gay marriage, abortion, and other topics and books, with tongues well lubricated but attitudes in check.

All things have an expiration date, and our experiment is concluded.  Our love for each other and our warm regard for the owner and staff of The Brickhouse is intact.  If you want good, open conversation, come to the House of Providence.  If your preference runs to a  cold beer and some nachos, The Brickhouse can accommodate you just fine.

The Dog

I could hear the growling before I saw the dog.  My children and I were taking a walk in a grove of trees, the space between the thick, straight trunks choked with blackberry brambles and other undergrowth; a green island in a suburban sea.  My wife was preparing dinner and needed quiet time.  I had finished a day’s work and needed to be outside.  A perfect marriage.

The brown face of the dog appeared soon after I first heard him, a large brute as high as my youngest was tall, with curly hair, a throaty snarl and a mouthful of very large teeth.  It seemed as if I could count every one of them too, as he raced towards us.

I was never brave, and had run from fights when I was young.  When combat was unavoidable I would simply lose the experience of time and memory, and awaken at the end of it all either victorious or beaten.  Courageous was an adjective used to describe others.  But here there was nowhere to hide.  It was the dog against my children and me.

We were evenly matched; the dog with his teeth and claws and me with my own.  Pulling my children behind me I crouched, snarling and baring my own teeth, and prepared to meet the dog’s challenge.  A second before impact the dog’s owner appeared from behind the undergrowth, ashen-faced and breathing heavy.  She called her dog, which had been obviously confused by my dog-like response, and the beast stopped and returned to her.  The leash that should have been there all along was quickly applied to the dog and the two moved off down the path.

We returned home to dinner.  The kids quickly forgot the incident, as kids do.  I uttered a prayer of thanks that night that I wasn’t somebody else’s dinner that day.

Fatherhood Day

Tomorrow is Fathers Day.  I suppose that should mean something to me since I’m a father and once had a father, but I must confess that it is not a day that moves me much one way or the other.  It is of course a good thing to celebrate fathers, but I don’t see how setting one day out of three hundred and sixty five to do so says enough about the importance of fathers.  In fact, considering the familial dysfunction of our society it is very possible that such a day causes more pain than pleasure.  Let me explain what I am getting at.

The ideal for the American family, for my Baby Boomer generation at least, was the Cleaver family of television fame.  Father Ward was always calm when he came home from some job that he could perform in a suit.  Mother June always had dinner ready when Ward got home and kept an immaculate house while wearing pearl necklaces.  Wally was the nearly perfect big brother to little Beaver and both Wally and The Beav always learned a life lesson by the end of the show.  Of course there were other perfect families on the tube; Father Knows Best and Ozzie and Harriet were two of the best, and we got to hear Ricky Nelson sing at the end of the latter’s show, but Leave It To Beaver stands at the peak of familial perfection.

Yet I never knew anyone who quite lived up to that ideal.  Many of my childhood friends came from single parent families.  I won’t speculate on the reasons for this because I never asked, and explanations were never offered.  Other of my friends came from two parent families but the home was anything but harmonious.  Alcoholism tainted some and neglect others.  My own experience was a father who was usually loving and attentive but could turn to confusing moods of morose anger, which many times ended in me and my family hurting emotionally and in much more physical terms.  I was famous in my neighborhood for the number and quality of the ass-whippings that I received at the hands of my father.  I never saw THAT episode on Leave It To Beaver.

There were a number of other ‘normal’ two parent families in our neighborhood and their kids, my friends, seemed to turn out OK.  They grew up to become teachers and police officers, contractors and housewives.  But their lives reflected little of the idyllic life that was presented in the television shows of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  I know. I was sitting on park benches after dark, smoking cigarettes and talking with my friends about our lives.  There was little perfection to be found there.

The truth is that there are many realities in American family life and some bring pain to children where fathers are concerned.  Sometimes fathers are unknown.  The mother had no idea who the partner du jour was that acted as a sperm donor to her child.  The father has no idea either, and therefore couldn’t offer to stand up to the role of fatherhood even if he was inclined to do so.  In other cases the father had bugged out on the family before the child ever knew him; perhaps before the child was even born.  Such cases as these leave a child with no idea of what a father should be.  Television family shows are fine, but they are like watching soap commercials for all the impact that they have.  “Father” is an abstract; something that other kids may have had, but possibly nobody in any particular kid’s circle of acquaintances.  Fathers Day might just as well be Flag day.  Who cares?

Worse yet are the instances when a child can remember a father, who is now departed due to divorce or abandonment.  In such cases children often wonder “What could I have done?” or “What did I do wrong?”  The answer to both of those questions, of course, is nothing.  The adults, who it turns out are not significantly more emotionally developed than their children, behave in ways that they perceive to be beneficial to themselves, and their children and their spouse must be content to take a pitiful second place to their narrow little self interest.  This leaves the children wounded and less equipped to construct meaningful relationships in their own adult years, thereby insuring that the sad cycle will not only continue but pick up speed.

And then there’s the abuser.  I never knew any kids in my neighborhood who admitted to being really beaten or to be sexually abused by their fathers or other extended family members, but the odds are that such things happened.  They just were not talked about back then.  When I think back fifty and more years to my childhood friends I wonder what went on behind closed doors.  I would like to believe that nothing out of line was going on, but I am not so naive as to believe that was the case.

For people who survived such childhoods, Fathers Day is a cruel joke.  For the person who’s father is a ghost due to death or abandonment before memory, or the person who still feels the lash of the belt or the impact of the fist, or even worse, the personal, sexual violation, Fathers Day is a time for anything from an unconcerned shrug of the shoulders to a cold rage that says “Screw fathers and their damned day.”

But this is not the whole story.  There are many fathers who sacrifice their own desires and their precious time to fulfill their role.  There are many men, every one of them as imperfect as I am, who work overtime to provide the material needs of their family.  These guys take their children to baseball practice or soccer games, go to school plays or recitals, discipline their children lovingly when they stray into bad behavior and, best of all, love their children’s mother openly and sacrificially.  These guys exist; I know many of them.  They are imperfect and not in the majority, but they exist, and they offer examples to all of the rest of us who could and should do better than we do.  To these guys I will offer a heartfelt “Happy Fatherhood Day.”

I guess it’s obvious that I prefer Fatherhood Day to Fathers Day, and that’s because so many fathers are not worth celebrating.  “Fatherhood Day” would be a day to celebrate the idea of a kind, loving male who will stand by his obligations to wife and children and go beyond obligations to real servanthood.  This man would take the cares of the world onto his shoulders to the best of his capabilities in tandem with his wife, and be a friend and model and rock to his kids.  On this day we would say to these imperfect guys who are struggling to do their part “Well done,” and to those who have shirked their responsibilities “You should be ashamed.”  

So Happy Fatherhood Day!  And may you guys out there wear whatever shoe fits.

The Picnic

THE PICNIC

It was about 9 O’clock in the morning when Phil Coltrane and Sandra Strickland rolled to a stop at the Arroyo Seco picnic area about seventy miles east of San Diego.  The lot was already filling up with cars as city dwellers fled the unseasonable heat and humidity spawned by a tropical storm somewhere off to the south, which had settled on the lowland areas of Southern California like a hot, sticky blanket.  Sitting at four thousand feet in the Laguna Mountains, the picnic area was much cooler than at the coast, and the gentle uprush of air tended to cool down as it rose, and convey that refreshing coolness to any who would make the tortuous drive on the serpentine two lane road that led there from the city.

Phil was apprehensive as he stopped the car, set the handbrake and turned off the engine.  “Here we are.  The hike to where I planned our picnic is about two hours away, so we had better get started.”  Phil tried to sound cheerful, but he was almost certain that the falseness was showing through like a searchlight on a clear night.  He and Sandra had only been together for seven months after meeting in the eleventh grade science class at Grant High School.  He was nervous as hell when he asked Sandra to go to a dance a couple of months after the beginning of the school year, close to Christmas, and was surprised when she agreed.  “One thing I should tell you” said Phil.  “I don’t know how to dance.”  Sandra’s laugh was soft and musical, and projected comfort rather than condemnation.  “Don’t worry about that.  I don’t know how to dance either.”

Over the next few months the relationship grew from two kids tottering through the steps of a neighborhood recreation center dance to a more-or-less committed thing, in which Sandra didn’t go out with any other boy and Phil prayed that it would stay that way. Phil, being a complete novice at this boy friend/girl friend thing, felt ill-suited to compete with other boys if any such competition should arise.

Phil and Sandra were able to get together at school and on one or sometimes both weekend nights for dinner at a drive in burger joint followed by talking and necking on a dark and uninhabited road wherever it could be found in or near the city, and an occasional movie, also at a drive in where kissing in the back seat was more likely to take up the bulk of their time than paying attention to whatever boring thing it was that Burt Lancaster or Tab Hunter was doing on the screen.

After about four months of this Sandra began to get a little less eager to participate in the usual weekend agenda, and a remoteness crept into her demeanor.  Phil thought he noticed it first at a party, where Sandra talked more to his best friend Matt than she did with him.  Talking with Matt later he asked him about the party.  “Are you interested in Sandra?  I’m not mad or anything like that; if you and she are interested in each other that’s OK.  I just gotta know.”  “No,” Matt said with genuine surprise.  “I’m not interested in Sandra at all.  She’s pretty and everything, but I’m busy with school and football, and I think Darlene and I might be getting together.  I’ll tell you though, if you’re worried about her looking at other guys, maybe you should think about whether you want to continue this or not.”

Phil instinctively knew that any relationship you had to beg for wasn’t a good thing, but he found that he loved being in a relationship at all and was prepared to venture into some unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory if there was any way that this first relationship could be saved.  Of course that’s if there really WAS anything amiss in the relationship.  With Phil’s inexperience, how would he really know?  Without asking, that is.  That is what today’s picnic was going to be all about.

They climbed out of the two-door Mercury sedan and Phil lifted the trunk lid.  Inside there were two packs of unequal size, one large enough to carry some food and water and a few items like a mirror, brush and tanning cream, and the other large enough to carry food and a blanket to spread out and eat on, and a fancy compact Swedish gas stove no bigger than the palm of your hand.  With this Phil planned to heat a can of soup and boil water for instant coffee.  Neither Phil nor Sandra drank coffee, but Phil was certain that it would look adult and make a good impression.  Swinging the packs onto their shoulders, the two began their walk to where, a couple of hours later, they were to have their lunch and a long conversation.

“Where exactly are we going to eat this lunch?” asked Sandra.  “It’s a couple of hours up the trail that starts over at the east end of the parking lot.  We’ll walk up the trail for a while, cut across a valley and then climb the side of a mountain to where there is a level place among a group of rocks.  I found this place hiking with my dad a couple of years ago.  It’s not too hard of a climb and I think you’ll handle it easily.  Let me know if you get tired though.”  “I’m tired now” Sandra laughed, but she was a very athletic young woman and Phil suspected that she could keep up with him wherever he led her.

The top of the first climb was reached in about forty-five minutes, at which point the trail which was previously bounded by chaparral, a mix of twisted, thorny drought-resistant plants that had grown tall and in some places had become tunnel-like due to the series of wet years that the area had experienced recently, opened up as it passed along the western edge of a mountain valley.

“We’ll climb part-way up that mountainside” Phil said, pointing to a peak which rose from the east side of the valley and poked a little higher into the cloud-dotted blue sky than did its near neighbors.  “If you look about a third of the way up the hill, just above that tree that was split by a lightening strike, you can see where we’re going to eat, in that cluster of rocks.  There’s no path but the valley is level and there’s not much chaparral on that hillside.  Watch for water holes though.  The Cuyapaipe River begins up here, and it can be a little bit marshy.  We’ll stay in the upper part of the valley and then cut back to get to where the rocks are.

They stepped off into the low, grassy floor of the valley near the north end, and it was indeed fairly dry there.  The warm sun and dry air, the grassy valley floor strewn with wildflowers and the beauty of the mountains should have been a thing to make one’s heart glad, but Phil was not feeling glad at all.  He knew that a very difficult conversation needed to be had and he had struggled over when and how to begin it.  He had planned to broach the topic when they sat down to lunch, but didn’t feel like he could wait anymore.

“There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk about” Phil began.  Sandra tensed, although that escaped Phil’s notice as he was focused on stepping over clumps of grass, avoiding marshy patches, and trying to collect thoughts which stubbornly refused to stay collected.  Sandra had suspected that this conversation was coming and in fact welcomed it, although its arrival caught her off guard and unprepared.  She had been feeling the strain in their relationship but had nobody to talk about it with.  Her parents were not going to be much help, she knew, and she thought about when she first spoke of Phil to them.

Her father was an accountant overseeing the tax needs of a large boat-building company on the San Diego waterfront, and was frequently at work in his office at home when he was not at work in his office at the business.  He was a kind man and made a lot of money, but was frequently distracted and distant from family life.  Her mother mostly took her direction from her father.  He was affectionate towards her, but there was little sense of partnership in their family.  Dad was the head of the household.

“What about this boy you want to go out with?” her father asked at the beginning of their relationship.  “What does he want to become, and what does his father do?”  “I don’t know what he wants to become, Dad.  We haven’t talked about that kind of stuff.   He hasn’t asked me what I want to become either.  We just like each other.  I think his dad works at the aircraft plant, but I don’t know what he does there and Phil doesn’t talk about him much.”  “Well, I don’t know about my little girl getting mixed up with a boy who shows no interest in a future.  How would he take care of you?”  “He didn’t ask me to marry him Dad.  We’re buying a couple of hamburgers and going to a dance.  Phil is a nice guy who helps me in science class and sometimes eats with me and Melissa Gormley.  He knows her too from their neighborhood, and she says that he is one of the nicer kids, and if she didn’t have a crush on a football player she might like to go out with him herself, and maybe would go out with him anyway if he didn’t already like me, but he hasn’t asked her.”

“Hmmm.  It doesn’t sound too promising to me, but why don’t you have him come over first and I’ll take a look for myself.”  “Oh Dad, I would feel bad about bringing him here to be inspected like a job applicant.  Can’t he just come in for a while before we go out?  I’ll be sure to take fifteen or twenty minutes longer than necessary to get ready after he arrives, and you can examine him all you want.”

And that was how the first date began.  Phil, it turned out, had dreams of becoming a helicopter pilot in the Army when he graduated, and while that carried with it the higher probability of not surviving the war which was at that time raging half a world away, the prestige and pay grade of an Army officer was sufficient to satisfy Mr. Strickland’s requirements, and he silently declared Phil to be suitable to take his daughter to a dance.  What Sandra’s mother thought of the affair is not known, as she was not asked.

Mom was spoken to now, however, as the relationship had grown flat and Sandra wondered what she should do next.  “For God’s sake, don’t keep going out with this boy if you don’t really like him.  You don’t owe him anything, and breaking up with him won’t be anything like as hard as staying with him will be if you don’t like him.”  Mom spoke from experience.  “That’s the thing Mom, I DO still like him.  He’s really nice.  It’s just that I don’t know how he feels about me.  He never really talks about how he feels and he has never asked me how I feel about him.  Or us.  I think that he still has a little bit of a crush on another girl who he knew before me; one who never gave him the time of day.”  Sandra’s mother knew something about not being consulted on her feelings, and advised that she drop Phil like a bad habit.  So when Phil raised the topic as they walked across the valley Sandra knew that the time had come to make up her mind.  “Go ahead” said Sandra.

“I’ve begun to get the feeling that you don’t like me as much as you did a couple of months before.  Is that how it is?”  Sandra was surprised by the directness of the question, and in fact Phil was too.  “I don’t know” Sandra replied.  “I don’t think I do, but I still like you a lot.”  Phil felt an arrow rip through his heart as they walked along.  He knew it, and now it was out in the open.  “Is it because you’re attracted to Matt?”  “No, not at all” Sandra lied.  She actually did find Matt attractive, but she had no intention to act on that in any way.  “I don’t have anybody else that I’m interested in.  I still really do like you a lot.  I’m just not sure where we are with this, and I’m not even sure how you feel about me.  It seems like you just want to sit up at Sandford’s Drive in, eat burgers, and then go somewhere and make out.  I like all of that, but I want something more.  I want to know if there are any other sides to you.”

Phil and Sandra walked along in silence as they both digested what had just been said.  Phil was glad that he was not competing with Matt or anybody else and Sandra was glad that this conversation had at last begun.  They had crossed the middle of the valley when Phil picked up the thread again.  “Well I do like to make out with you.  You’re a beautiful girl, and sometimes I guess I can’t believe that I’m really kissing you, and then it’s all that I want to do.  Maybe I suffer from a lack of imagination about what to do when I’m with you because I’m so happy just to be with you at all.”

“Well, this is the first time that I’ve heard of that” said Sandra, and Phil knew at once that she was right; he had never said anything like that to her.  How could he know that he should say such things, or how to say them?  Phil’s father and mother lived a sort of cold war, sharing a house but separate bedrooms, separate budgets, separate vacations and separateness in every other respect.  They went dancing and to dinner with friends, but their marriage looked like a business deal.  Sandra, if she would have known Phil’s parents better, would have understood his confusion in this matter.

“And then there’s another thing.  When we were at the football game that guy, Paul Something-Or-Other, was fresh with me and you seemed to be afraid.  I know, I shouldn’t be looking for a muscle guy who’ll fight at the drop of a hat.  I just wonder if that shows that you don’t really care about me very much and what you would do if I was really in trouble.

That one hurt.  Phil knew that he had looked bad that night.  Paul Dugger was a big kid, bigger that Phil by a good bit, and he had made advances towards Sandra right in Phil’s face.  Phil had laughed a little and steered Sandra and himself to where some of Phil’s friends were sitting, and the number of Phil’s friends persuaded Paul to leave after another grating remark or two.  What hurt most about it was that Phil, unbeknownst to Sandra, had attained to the third degree of black belt in karate.  He had begun to train after being humiliated in the sixth grade by a bully and convinced his father to pay for lessons at a nearby school.  As Phil got older and attended competitions with other karate schools he found a much better one and switched to it, buying extra lessons with money he made mowing lawns, selling vegetables to neighbors that he grew in the back yard, and eventually delivering newspapers.  On the night that Paul made his oafish advances Phil was certain that he could put him out of commission with three, or at the most four, well-placed blows, but he was restrained by a code to not use violence except as a last resort.  He did not want to tell Sandra of this until he knew her much better, although he now knew that he had made a mistake.  Phil made a note to rectify that mistake at the earliest opportunity.

“I’m sorry that I wasn’t more assertive that night” Phil explained lamely.  “I wasn’t afraid of Paul; I just didn’t want to get into a fight then and there.  If I thought that you were in any real danger I would have done whatever was necessary to protect you.  I would never let anything hurt you.  Never.”

At that Sandra felt a little embarrassed.  She really did want a knight to step up, slay a dragon, and preserve her honor.  Was that so wrong?  It’s what most boys did, or tried to do which was just as good.  She had wondered if Phil was a coward.  That was a strong word, and Phil did not seem like if fit him.  Sandra wondered if she had a skewed idea of what a relationship with a boy really was.  Was she playing the role of the pampered princess, expecting the boys to do the bleeding so that she would feel special?  They both walked along in silence, rolling these thoughts through their minds as they finished their transit of the valley.

They began their climb to the rocks and, as they picked their way through the sparse chaparral and the small boulders that were scattered about Phil picked up the conversation again.  “So I haven’t told you how I feel about you.  OK.  I’ll give you that.  I’m new at this and, honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing or should do. So let me tell you this now.  I look forward to every minute that I can be with you, and I feel sick when I think that I am losing you.  If you don’t want me to kiss you so much, then I won’t.  If you want me to stand on my head instead, I will. Just being near you will be enough as long as I know that you are happy just being near me.  But if that won’t work then we should break up now so that I won’t bother you or look like a fool, which is how I’ve been feeling.

There, Phil had said it.  He couldn’t believe that he got it out without his voice cracking, and he prayed that Sandra wouldn’t take him up on it, but it was out on the table and, whatever came next he would have to deal with, for better or for worse.  Sandra was happy to get it out in the open too.  She had only little more experience with this boy friend/girl friend thing than Phil and wanted to figure it out just as badly as he did.  She thought about her response to that statement as they drew closer to the rocks where lunch was supposed to happen, wanting to say the right words.  Shortly, Sandra decided to just say what she felt.

“This is what I’ve been missing.  We were acting a lot like my parents; pick me up at six.  Eat at six thirty.  Go to the movie at seven thirty.  Kiss from eight to ten and then go home.  I don’t want you to be my bodyguard and I don’t want to be your ornament, and I certainly don’t want to be part of a script.  I don’t want you to fight over nothing but I have to believe that you would protect me.  I don’t want you to think that you have to put on an act for me.  I want to know that you care about me and maybe surprise me a little sometimes.  Take me to a nice restaurant,  or just grill me some hot dogs in your back yard and tell me that I’m special to you while we sit on that big bench swing that your dad built.  Next time we sit in the back seat kissing while some stupid movie is playing, try to get into my pants.  I don’t want anything wild and crazy, but I don’t want anything so damned tame and predictable either.

They had reached the cluster of rocks and Phil stopped dead in his tracks, frozen by both his elation and the surprise that he felt from what he had just heard.  “You would let me get into your pants?” he asked in amazement.  “No.  don’t be silly.  But I wouldn’t hate you for trying.  At least I’d know that you want to get into them, and then we can talk about the rest of it later.”  Phil put out his hand as if to reach for the button holding up Sandra’s pants and she laughed as she slapped his hand away.  “A whole lot later.”  Phil laughed too, just beginning to believe that this was going to end a lot better than he ever believed that it could.  Sandra’s musical laughter was singing a love song in Phil’s ears as they pulled themselves up over the first layer of rock, and that is when the rattlesnake which had been sunning itself above the lip of the rock was startled by their appearance, and struck out at Sandra’s neck.

Phil saw the snake flying through the air and reacted instantly, due to his years of martial arts training.  Instinctively he thrust his arm between Sandra’s throat and the snake that was flying at her like a missile.  The serpent buried its fangs deep into Phil’s bicep, and he then swung the arm vigorously until the snake let go and wriggled swiftly into what chaparral was nearby, leaving a shaken Sandra and a bitten Phil in its wake.

“Oh God!  Oh God!  You’re bitten” Sandra kept repeating.  Phil stared numbly at the two puncture sites on his arm that were oozing blood, frozen with fear.  Sandra’s shrieks became louder and more hysterical, and the sound brought Phil back to something like his senses.  Phil’s father, who grew up in Oklahoma, knew a lot about rattlesnakes and had taught Phil how to negotiate the mountains without getting crosswise with a rattler.  One thing his dad did not include in his tuition was how to remain watchful for snakes while negotiating with a beautiful young girl about getting into her pants, even if in jest.  Phil had forgotten to tap the rock with the steel hatchet that he wore on his belt to alert any snake on the rocks that he was coming “The snake,” his father told him, “will let you know that he’s there, which will work out best for both of you.”

Sandra was losing it, and Phil went to her, put his arms around her and held her close.  He led her to the rock and sat her down with her back against it, then sat down next to her and cradled her with his good left arm.  “It’s OK.  It’s OK baby” Phil said, although he couldn’t for the life of him figure out how it could possibly be OK.  “Come on Baby, calm down.  You’re OK.”  Sandra’s sobbing diminished, and presently she looked up at the snakebitten boy who was comforting her and began to control her fear.

“You were bitten, weren’t you/“  “Yes,” Phil replied.  “It looks like I was.”  Sandra’s tears began to flow again, but Phil’s comforting arm kept her from falling completely apart.  Her jaw worked, but few words came out.  “Are you going to die?” she finally croaked in a whisper.

Phil didn’t answer right away because he didn’t know what the answer.  His father had told him that all of the Hollywood stuff about snakebites was horse shit  “The best thing to do is to get to a doctor as quickly as possible without raising the heart rate any more than necessary” his father had said.  Sitting against a rock an hour and a half at least from a ranger station, and then another hour from a hospital, meant that getting to a doctor in time was not going to happen.  Phil felt the shiver of the terror of death crawl down his spine.  Bile crept up his throat and he almost threw up with fear, but the look of Sandra scared, shaken, and fearing for HIM settled him down, and he remembered more of what his father had taught him about snake bites, and one possibility rose to the top. “My father told me that sometimes rattlers will give you a ‘dry bite’, where they don’t inject venom.  All we can do now is start back to the parking lot and hope that this snake was in a good mood.”

Sandra was beginning to fall apart again and Phil, who was not far behind her in that department, now placed both arms around her, worrying in some surreal fashion that he might drip blood on her clothes.  “Come on, we should get going” Phil said and stood up.  He reached down to Sandra with his good arm and she rose to stand next to him.  “Let’s get these packs off” Phil said.  “I don’t think we’re going to do a picnic today.  Sandra dropped her pack next to where Phil’s lay in the dust and they set off down the hill, towards the valley.  “We’ll go straight across the valley” Phil told her.  “I’m not worried too much about wet shoes right now.

They walked quietly side by side across the grassy alley.  Phil was wondering how far he would get before the effects of the bite would lead to weakness, light-headedness, shortness of breath and perhaps death.  He wanted to be sure that Sandra was on the path that led straight to the parking lot by the time that happened, if it happened.  Phil thought about dying, and panic began to rise into his throat once again.  He was not raised in a religious household, and being a teenage boy he never thought much about death.  Now it was a distinct possibility, but in an odd way its fear did not immobilize him.  Phil knew that there wasn’t one damned thing he could do about it, and so  whatever came would come.  Heaven or hell or whatever else was beyond his control, and so he would just put one foot in front of the other for as long as he was able.  The rest would just have to take care of itself.

Sandra was deep into her own thoughts too.  The panic that she had felt only a short while before was only pushed back slightly from her consciousness, and as she walked, images of the last hour came at her with shotgun randomness.  The tension between the two, kissing, burgers at Sandfords, Paul, her parents, Phil’s monotonous and unchanging demeanor.  They swirled and left her dizzy, and she leaned on Phil for support.  Phil stopped and steadied her and said “I don’t know how long I’ll stay standing but I’ll do so as long as possible, so you’ll have to stay vertical yourself.  I’m trying to get you as close to safety as I can before I go down, if I go down.  Sandra stood there for a moment, and the image which coalesced out of the maelstrom of her thoughts was Phil, the guy who preferred not to get into a fight with Paul for Sandra’s honor, had just taken a rattlesnake bite for her.  She threw her arms around Phil and kissed him.  “I don’t really know what love is” she said.  “I don’t now if I’ve ever seen it before.  But what I feel for you may be love.  We’ll see.  But first we have to get you to a doctor, so come on.  And ‘NO’, you still can’t get into my pants.”

So down the path they went, through the chaparral tunnels and on toward the distant parking lot and help to be had from there.  Phil gave Sandra the keys to the car in case she had to go some of the way alone but as each minute passed and none of the expected effects of snake venom set in, Phil became more convinced that he had received a dry bite.  Sandra began to sense it too, and began to cry all over again.

“What’s the matter?” asked Phil.  I think I’m going to be all right.”  “I do too” replied Sandra, and her voice cracked once again as much of the strain and terror of the last hour began to slip away from her.  “It’s a miracle, you dumb son of a bitch!  You’ve been bitten by a rattlesnake in order to save my life a million miles from nowhere and you’re going to be all right, and it’s a miracle!  How can I love a guy who’s so damned stupid?” Sandra kissed Phil again and then took his hand and led him down the path.

The parking lot was soon in sight and the car parked on the far site looked like heaven.  When they reached it Phil led Sandra to the driver’s side and, taking the keys from her and opened the door, saying “You’re driving”, and I think it will be best if we share the driver’s seat in all of the other areas of our life too.”  Phil kissed Sandra slowly, deeply, and then got into the passenger side.  “Maybe you’re right about miracles” he said.  “I’ll give that idea some thought.”  Sandra with tears of relief and joy rolling down her face, put the Merc into gear and rolled down the road toward the ranger station, and whatever would come after that.

The City Of Otherly Love

Philadelphia.  The City of Brotherly Love.  I am told that if one travels to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one will learn quickly that Philly is no more lovable and cuddly than any other city in America or, for that matter, the world.  I wouldn’t know; I haven’t been there.  I love American football however, and I have seen that disgruntled fans in New York throw ice and in Seattle throw decibels,  but in Philly they throw sacks of bolts, so I assume that it’s a pretty tough town.

I don’t know exactly where the idea of a “City of Brotherly Love” same from, but I think it may have arisen from Augustine of Hippo’s book “City of God,” in which he compares the earthly notion of a city, which in his book is Rome, the only city in the world that really mattered at that time, and the New Jerusalem, the City of God, which was inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The premise, if I rightly understood it, is that this City of God is coming down to replace the City of Man, and that in the City of God the teachings of Jesus, foremost of which was “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” is its defining characteristic.  It seems to me that the hallmark of the City of God, the city begun by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is that it is a city where the inhabitants love each other as they do themselves.  That city is not Philadelphia, Pa.  It isn’t any earthly city that I know.

But does it necessarily follow that just because I can’t find a true Philadelphia on the map  it doesn’t exist?  I will grant you that if I Google “The real, functioning City of Brotherly  Love,” I am not likely to find that city.  And I am not going to find it by driving down Interstate 5 to the junction with Interstate 70 and then east to Interstate Whatever, and then taking offramp number 7 which will put me fifteen miles away from the city limits sign for “The City of Brotherly Love.”

Yet the City of Brotherly Love is there.  Jesus said that it is there.  It descended from heaven to earth when Jesus ascended from earth to heaven.  It can be hard to see, but if you look you will see it in an American white man who gives CPR to a non-breathing little black girl while the distraught father looks on in helpless horror.  It can be seen when a Burmese Buddhist stands up for a Burmese Muslim, and when a Sunni in Iraq shelters a Shi’ite, Christian or Yazidi neighbor from the ISIS goons who will kill or make a sex slave of them.  It is seen when the ten year old school child tells others to leave the new kid alone, and then befriends her.  That is when the City of God, or of Brotherly Love, that Jesus and Augustine and so many others spoke of, becomes easier to see.

At the heart of this city-building, as I see it, is the willingness to offer acceptance and love to people not like US.  I can’t tell a Burmese Rohingya from a Burmese Muslim, a Rwandan Hutu from a Rwandan Tutsi, a Northern Ireland Catholic from a Protestant, or a Trump supporter from a Clinton supporter, but somehow they can, and myriad others of a similar bipolar disposition.  And because people on each side of these many divides can tell US from THEM, we still wait for the City of Brotherly Love to be established as the dominant, and only, city on Earth.

In the City of US it is relatively easy to get along because WE look so much alike.  WE have similar education levels, similar complexion, similar beliefs and so on.  We will, by and large, endure the minute differences which exist among us because we align so well on all of the big ones.  And who knows, perhaps I will be able to show my co-citizens in this earthly city the error in their way and eventually they will have it all together.  Like I do.

The problem with the City of US however is that it is quite small.  Like Williston North Dakota, Clarksdale Mississippi or Bar Harbour, Maine, the citizens of the City of US is very small and very homogenous.  Everyone sort of looks the same and thinks the same, and where a small number of THEM are tolerated, more or less, they are expected to keep a low profile, not try to provide much input into the body politic, and be humble towards US.

This is not a city in which brotherly love is practiced.  There is plenty of love of brothers, to be sure, but love that is LIKE that of a brother toward a brother; love that risks all and gives all as one would for a brother but which in fact is given to someone who is not at all one’s biological brother, that love is scarce indeed in the City of US.

And we will hardly waste words on the City of THEM.  THEY are the outsiders who either threaten our security now or very easily might in the future.  The City of THEM can be useful if it is neutral and/or subservient.  But if it rejects our superiority and deigns to suggest an equality or superiority to US, suspicion at best is their lot and hate/fear is the most likely sentiment to be projected their way from US.  THEY may be used as our playground or targeted as a threat, but other than the ‘love’ that we extend to others on a cash-and-carry basis, there will be little of the real thing to be seen.

Jesus spoke of something different.  Jesus spoke of love for the OTHER; the Samaritan woman at the well and the Samaritan traveler in the famous parable.  Jesus ate with the tax collectors, the prostitutes and other ‘sinners.’  Jesus was touched by a bleeding woman and did not rebuke her; in fact, healed her.  Jesus made ready to travel to a Roman centurion’s house to heal his servant.  A gentile!  Jesus kept breaking rules and taboos, blessing the outsiders and criticizing the blatant hypocrisy of US, the insiders.  Jesus’ only recorded anger was toward the religious establishment, the ultimate WE in first century Israel.  I propose that Jesus called us, and is still calling us, to be citizens of a City of Otherly Love.  Jesus told us as plainly as can be that we are to not only love the OTHERS, but also to learn from them.  That perfect city will be filled with people who love the OTHER as they love themselves, without expecting repayment or favor of some form in return.

What does/will that city look like?  I don’t really know, but I am confident that nobody else knows either.  Will the Iraqi Sunni who fed, clothed and sheltered his Yazidi neighbor from being beaten, stripped naked and crucified by ISIS, his wife beheaded and his daughter serially raped and sold as a sex slave be there?  Will the Burmese Buddhist who sheltered a Rohingya from the mob, a Thai Buddhist monk who worked to rescue young girls and boys from the notorious Thai sex industry, which feeds the lusts of Western “sex tourists?”  Will Robert Wilson, an American atheist who gave $22.5 million to New York Catholic education be in the city?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, as they are considerably above my pay grade.  But I have read that Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us, said ” Then the King will say to those on His right ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me.  I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'” At that point the people to whom He is speaking ask “When did we ever do those things?” “The King will reply ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, YOU DID FOR ME (my emphasis).'”

OK, I’m no theologian.  Heck, compared with a true theologian I am barely literate.  And the title of my blog IS Musings and other Mental Wanderings, after all.  I am sufficiently literate however to read the very words of my Lord Jesus Christ.  He seems to have suggested – no, proclaimed – that a kingdom, a city, would be populated by people whom ‘the righteous’ least would expect to find there.  By people who, in fact, might be surprised to find themselves there.  The finer points I won’t debate.  I will cling to the big picture.  Jesus loves those who sacrificially love.  Jesus loves those who will extend themselves to the poor, the prisoner, the sick, the outsider, the OTHER.  Jesus’ harshest words were for the religious establishment who would not do those things.  I like this Jesus.  No, I love Him.

So what is my challenge?  Only to seek to be a citizen of the City of Otherly Love.  I need to love and serve those who don’t look like me, smell like me, worship like me, who are not in my community of faith and, most importantly, who could not possibly pay me back for anything that I might do for them.  If I can add my name to the citizenship rolls of that City, that Kingdom, then the reconciliation of heaven and earth will be one step closer, and I will be that much deeper in the loving arms of the Savior who pursues us all.

A Boy And His Dog, Epilogue

After leaving the headquarters building I began to walk along the raised wooden plank sidewalk that led from there to the hooches.  Larry emerged from the commo bunker and shouted “Hey, Creeper (my own nickname), wait a minute.  I got a message for you from your friend over at 3rd Recon at Tan Son Nhut.  That guy, Jerry, sent you one.  You want to come over and read it?  I’ve got a new record by some guy named Jimi Hendrix that I think you’ll like too.” I quickly agreed and followed Larry back to the bunker, and while Jimi wailed out the question “Are You Experienced?” I read Jerry’s message.

“Glenn.  Getting reassigned to Central Europe.  Some big problem there.  Can’t tell you what it is or I’ll have to bite you.  Been good to reconnect.  I call you my friend.  Send mail to enclosed address.  Hope to see you in the real world.  Your friend, Jerry.”

I stared at the message for a couple of minutes, forgetting to listen to the soaring guitar of Mr. Hendrix.  I had wanted badly to get back to Jerry and reassure him that I had come to believe fully in his story.  Everything that he had said and done spoke to his reliability and I had no doubt that he was exactly what he said that he was.

Central Europe meant Russia, with whom we were locked in an embrace of mutually assured destruction if anybody dared to pull the trigger.  I sat there in the air conditioned commo bunker completely unaware of the explosive guitar work coming out of the speakers.  In my mind’s eye I could see a German shepherd or a Doberman pincer or some such dog loping across fields sniffing for mines or listening to conversations in German or Russian, or counting the number and disposition of tanks and artillery.  And I also wondered if I would ever see Jerry again.

I excused myself and returned to my bunk, where I pulled my writing tablet out of my footlocker and wrote to the address Jerry had given me.  I told him that I would go home in four months, that I hoped to see him back in San Diego, and once again that I believed in him.

Jerry replied to my letters a few times, even after I got home.  I looked for his family’s name in the phone book and there were a dozen or so Warnocks, but none of them were Jerry’s family.  None of them admitted it anyway.  It’s been two years since I left the Army and Jerry’s letters have quit coming.  I don’t know what that means, but I hope that it doesn’t mean that somebody shot a dog that was snooping where it shouldn’t have been, and every day I hope that I will see a dog unattached to an owner trot up to me, reach up, and offer me a paw.

 

A Boy And His Dog, Part XII

I awoke the next morning and saw that Jerry was gone.  I didn’t hear him get up and I was instantly disappointed.  I wanted to continue our conversation of the previous evening but now, that wasn’t going to happen.  I got up and walked over to my bunk and saw lying there a note, which I picked up and read.  “Sorry to bug out on you this way, but duty calls. I’ll be back at my unit before you read this and involved with a tricky mission.  I hope to get in touch with you when I return, but security demands that I not reveal when that might be.  Give my regards to Frank (on second thought, you should probably stay away from him).  Your friend, Jerry.”  I put the note in my footlocker and began to pull on my fatigues and boots.  Once dressed I went outside to join the morning formation.

At the conclusion of the formation and head count Top Sarge told me to fall out and stay behind after the day crew departed for Newport.  Oddly, I was not surprised at this.  Nothing was surprising me much these days.  I lingered in the mess tent and then returned to lounge on my bunk and wait to see what was about to happen.  I didn’t have to wait for very long.  Vince, my friend who was battalion clerk, came to bring me word that Colonel Bannock wanted to see me.

“What’s going on man?” Vince asked.  “You two are blood brothers or something?  People are going to start talking.”

“Screw them” I said.  “I’ve got no idea what this is about.”

I was sort of lying at that point, but there was no way that I could explain anything that had happened in the last couple of weeks.

“I was on the convoy to Cu Chi, and maybe he wants to be debriefed.  I don’t know why the MP’s or G-2 couldn’t do it, but maybe he wants to hear it from eyes that were there.”

“Yeah, I heard about that” Vince said.  “It’s about time that we gave the bastards a little of what they’ve been dealing out to us.”

We arrived at the headquarters building and I went over to the Colonel’s door and gave it a rap.  “Come in” was the command, and once again I was soon standing in front of the Colonel.  He didn’t waste any time with pleasantries.  “Durden!  You did a magnificent job.  I think you’ve found your military calling.  The initial after action reports are painting this convoy and follow up as a smashing success.  I was hoping for a reduction in our losses and you’ve turned this into the worst hit that the VC has taken in that sector for some time.  You’re still a sorry excuse for a soldier but you do have some skills.  I don’t suppose that you would be up for a reassignment to where you could do some real good?”

My knees were nearly knocking together as I digested that, and I replied quickly.  “No Sir, I would not be up for that at all.  One time was more than enough for me.  I’ll be glad to give up Saigon or Vung Tau or just about anything to not sit in that lead truck again.  If I could be so bold Sir, you said that this would be the only time that I had to do this.  I hope that’s true Sir.”

“Don’t get nervous Durden.  I remember what I said.  You’re going back to work at the port tomorrow, like you will for the rest of your tour.  In fact, that’s not what I really wanted to talk to you about.  I received this communication yesterday informing me of a change in Army policy.  It says that people who will be discharged from service upon their return to the States may receive a three month early out.  That means you would be leaving in July instead of October.  What do you think of that?”

” I would love it Sit.  Getting out of here alive and as soon as possible are pretty much at the top of my personal list.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that, because it gets better.  I have instructed Vince to submit a request to grant you an additional two months early out for services rendered.  I will be rotating home soon myself, but I’ll stay at least until I get that approved.”

I stood in front of Colonel Bannock with my jaw hanging down, unable to fully comprehend what he was telling me.  Finally I stammered out “y-you mean I’m going home in May?”

“If I can help it you are, and I’m pretty sure that I can help it.  Now go and kick back for the rest of the day.  Oh, and Durden, try not to get killed in the next four months.  That will be all.”

I completely forgot to salute as I turned and walked out of the Colonel’s office in a daze. Vince, who knew all of this before he came to bring me to the Colonel, was grinning like the Cheshire Cat.  I went over and slugged him in the shoulder, but not too hard.  “Vince!  You punk!  Why didn’t you tell me?”

Vince giggled and said “Colonel’s orders.  He wanted to tell you.  I don’t know what you’ve got going on here, but it’s the best scam that I’ve ever seen.  I knew that you were good, but this tops everything.  How’d you do it?”

“A magician never explains his tricks” I told him, and then walked out through the screen door and back into the Vietnamese sunshine.

After I left Colonel Bannock’s office he received a phone call.  General Abramson from the 25th Infantry Division was calling to express his approval of the results of the convoy.  “I heard that you were responsible for making the changes in the convoy protocols, and I want to congratulate you.  That was a brilliant piece of work.  I’ve been talking with Bulwer and Gordon over at USARV and we’re wondering why a man with your talent is jockeying a desk at a supply battalion.  If you’re interested I will see what I can do about getting you out from behind that desk.”

“Thank you Sir” Bannock replied.  “I would appreciate that very much.

A reassignment to an infantry unit, the possibility of advancement, it all danced in his mind like a drug!  Bannock felt the tug of old dreams and ambitions, and he sat back in his chair with his feet on the desk for the first time since he landed in this dead end post.  His thoughts were pleasantly engaged in this manner when the land line rang again.  This time it was Long Binh G-2, calling to offer their pats on the back and ask if he would be interested in reviewing some readjustments to security at various points on the perimeter of the post.

“Certainly” he responded.  “When should I report?”

“Now would be good if you can manage it.”

Manage it he did.  Turning HQ over to Major Smithson, Colonel Bannock walked up the hill to G-2.  This time his arrival was a more welcoming event.  The specialist at the desk stood up and saluted, and then led Bannock straight through the door, back to the room where he and Captain Perkins had analyzed the information that I had brought to him after Jerry’s visit on the water tower.

This time there were two other Colonels and General Gordon of USARV also in the room.  Salutes were given, and handshakes around, and then maps were unrolled.  The next couple of hours were spent pouring over the placement of minefields, wire obstacles, forward observation posts, reinforcement units and the state of the readiness, and the rotation of all of these assets so as to not present a too static defensive posture for the enemy to analyze and exploit wherever weaknesses were found.

Lunchtime came, and in another room fare much more savory than that found in the mess tent back at battalion covered a table.  Bannock was not a true desk jockey and the common mess of the grunt foot soldier was adequate for him.  He found the elevation of his circumstances intoxicating however, and ate his roast beef and garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus – where the hell did they find asparagus? – and washed it down with a glass of a very good red wine.

Lunch concluded, Bannock suggested that he would like to see the perimeter defenses from inside and out, and the next several hours passed with him being driven around the perimeter road, stopping to advance to the wire on foot and occasionally be guided out by an infantry team to see the most forward positions, sometimes accompanied by one of the Colonels who decided to come along for the show.  The hours passed, and the other Colonel and the jeep driver were sweating profusely by the time Bannock completed his inspection.  Sweat was staining Bannock’s armpits and back too, but he was scarcely aware of it as the driver motored back to G-2.

Inside the rome again the party reassembled over the maps, and Bannock and the other Colonel, with whom Bannock connected very well, proceeded to point out deficiencies that didn’t show up on the two dimensional maps on the table.  General Gordon mostly watched the performance of Bannock, but on occasions found himself drawn into the actual work at hand, his own infantry roots being nourished by this concentrated brainstorming.

At length the conference came to a conclusion, and Bannock noticed to his surprise that it was almost 5:00PM.  He was invited to a dinner with some of the brass from USARV and 1st Logistics but he declined, to their considerable surprise.  “Thank you for that offer, but I must return to my unit.   My day crew will be returning soon and I want to be present when the buses roll in.  I have mess with my officers and then a short briefing with the NCO’s while the men eat and get cleaned up.  It’s important that we all know anything that’s worked well that day and anything that didn’t, and make whatever adjustments we deem necessary.  My unit is my first priority.  I’ve been honored to be a part of this exercise today and I hope that I have been of service.  I am at your disposal if I can be of further use to you.  Now I must return to look after my men.

After Bannock’s departure the officers discussed his performance and determined that he had a natural ability to assess situations as the existed, and how his suggested changes could anticipate any number of wild cards that might be thrown at the post.

“Why was he stuck in supply?” asked the Colonel that had accompanied Bannock on his close-up inspection tour.  “He must have pissed somebody off, but good.”

“Actually, it was about his wife, who got drunk and insulted the 4th Division Commander’s daughter.  ‘A man who can’t control his wife can’t control a division’ that General said.  He’s a pompous ass anyway, but the label stuck and Bannock went into the twilight zone.  He is likely to retire when he rotates out next month, but this performance of his has caught a few people’s attention.  What do you men think?  You’ve watched him all day.”

The group agreed that Bannock demonstrated capabilities that were being wasted at a supply battalion, and agreed also that his declining their dinner invitation in order to be faithful to his men was entirely to his credit.

“Then you agree that a reassignment to an infantry division, possibly the 25th, and a promotion path to a General’s star would be in order?”

All present agreed, and then they departed to shower and change clothes and prepare for the dinner that Colonel Bannock had declined to attend.  A congressman on some Armed Forces Subcommittee or other was on a fact finding tour and would be in attendance, and each officer knew that his career could be enhanced by making a good impression.

Bannock walked back to his battalion and almost began to whistle.  He had not felt this good for a very long time.  He, too, would shower and change clothes before joining his officers in the mess tent.  Upon arriving at his hooch he saw a couple of letters on his bunk.  Sitting in a reclining chair he picked up the letters and saw that one was from his wife and the other from his daughter.

 

A spasm ran through his stomach as he looked at the handwriting on the envelope.  His relationship with Carole was very valuable to him, but the shoals and uncharted waters that they had strayed into had left him apprehensive of their future.  He was committed to restoring the relationship with Carole to health if he could, but he knew that this was not like fixing a perimeter defense or leading men into combat.  This struggle was partly within his control but also very much out of his hands and he felt helpless; a feeling that Colonel Arthur Bannock never had enjoyed.

Colonel Bannock turned the letter over and over in his hands, and finally growled to nobody in general “Just open it, you big wuss!”  Bannock ripped open the letter and held it in hands that faintly trembled.  It read:

“Dear Arthur.  It seems like many years since you were here, and I miss you deeply.  We are all well here.  Julie will be starting college at the University of Washington in fall and Clyde is doing very well in high school.  He is getting ‘A’s in nearly all of his classes and is a star in track.  He runs a race that goes one time around the track really fast, I think it’s called a 400 or 440 , something like that.  He’s really good and hopes to get a scholarship.  Clydie really doesn’t want to go into the military and I don’t want him to either.  I hope that doesn’t hurt you.  He may join the Navy however, if he doesn’t get a scholarship, so that he can avoid the worst of it, and if he does I will support him.

Arthur, I will get to the point of this letter.  I have been talking regularly with Dr. Goldberg and the Chaplin, Father McCleery.  I have been through a very dry valley and I know that you have too.  I’m sorry about that for your sake but I’ve come to accept that my own valley, while desperately painful, has turned out to be a good thing for me.  My needs, most of which have been met, sorely missed the greatest single one of them; the unquestioned love and consideration of my husband.

I’m not writing this to blow you off and tell you that we’re through.  On the contrary, I am writing this to say that with the help of Dr. Goldberg and Father McCleery I have learned that it’s OK for me to feel this way and express myself to you clearly and openly.  I already knew that you are a good man and would respect my struggle.  They just helped me to take that knowledge and act on it.

So now I’m telling you that I am ready to accept your career if you wish to pursue it, and if I haven’t screwed it up too badly for you.  All that I ask is that you speak with me honestly and try to feel what I am feeling and hear what I am saying.  I believe that if we are both determined to make our marriage a success it can happen.  I know that you love your career, and being a teacher or selling insurance would be like a death sentence for you.  All I ask is that you limit the Army to being only your career.  Let me be your wife.

I look forward to your thoughts about this and your return home soon.  I almost don’t believe that they’ll really let you come home to me, but I guess even Colonels get to come home every now and then.

Please be very careful, and don’t let anything keep you from me for very much longer.  Your beloved wife, Carole.”

Colonel Bannock sat motionless in his chair, staring at the letter and doing nothing more than breathing.  The fear that he was losing his career wasn’t nearly as paralyzing as had been the fear that he was losing his wife.  As the words sank into his consciousness it became more and more clear that his marriage to Carole was pointed in the direction of recovery and health.

The tears began slowly at first, but soon grew into a torrent of sobs as he hugged his shoulders and shook spasmodically in his chair.  The last year and a half of physical and emotional separation were finally addressed head on, and the promise that it might be over prompted the release that reduced Bannock to a sobbing, snot-smeared little boy who wanted to hold the object of his affection and not let go until his tears were dried.

Finally Arthur Bannock got control of his emotions and showered, washing away the pain he had just released, and put on clean clothes in which to join his officers.  In the mess tent he went over details of the day’s work and what would be needed for the next day.  That accomplished, he invited his NCO’s to join him in his quarters.  They were surprised at this but agreed.  In his quarters Arthur set up a couple of folding chairs and pulled out a stash of paper cups and his bottle of bourbon.  “Would you gentlemen care to join me in a drink?”

Their surprise deepened further as Bannock poured shots and handed them around.  Then, sipping their drinks, Bannock enquired closely as to the needs of the men to accomplish their mission and help with their morale.  Whisky was consumed and plans were laid and finally Colonel Bannock said goodnight to his enlisted leaders.

That done, Arthur Bannock took a writing tablet out of his footlocker and sat down at his desk.  He began to write his letter to Carole in the following manner:  “Dear Carole.  Thank you for your kind offer to be my wife.  I accept your offer with all of my heart.  I assure you that the Army give you no competition for that position.  I have been interviewed by several high ranking officers here and believe that I am once again on a path to advancement of my career.  As you might guess, that gives me great pleasure and hope.

It does not, however, give me anything like the pleasure and hope that the sentiments expressed in your letter have given to me.  I am willing and would be happy to get my career back on track, but I will do that only with your full agreement and support, and I promise that I will consider at every step of the way how to spend the greatest amount of time with you and the kids, and make you a priority above all other things.  I will make no decision until I have been granted a lengthy leave to be with you, so that we can discuss this carefully and un-pressured.  If we decide that the Army must be set aside, I will then be happy to be a teacher or insurance salesman or cook at the local hospital.  It will all be worth it to me if we can be together and happy.  I will make no decision on anything until I am with you again, and I swear that your needs are the very first calling in my life.  If the choice is between the Army and you, there is a phrase that the enlisted men use when they think that we officers are not around, and I believe that in this case it is applicable.  ‘Fuck the Army.'”