Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Fine World War II Veteran

Right before asking a WW2 veteran out to lunch, I was at the computer and heard a loud  "clunk!"  I went to the back sunroom, thinking the sound had come from there, and saw a stunned robin sprawled on the deck floor. One wing was open and the bird was half on its side, its beak open and panting.

The dogs raced outside to investigate the clunk, but ran right past the fallen robin. I quietly cupped my hands around him, gently bringing his wing into proper position against his body. He didn't try to fight me or fly, just huddled in my hands. After showing him to Asherel, I brought him to the garden in the front yard (remember- whenever I use terms like "garden" in connection with my yard, you may get a better picture if you think more along the lines of "tumbled mass of hodge podge vegetation") and I placed him hidden among the foliage.

Then I drove over to the Senior Living Center, arriving fifteen minutes early. Already waiting in the foyer, Comer sat with Evelyn, who he had fetched even earlier from the Alzheimer's floor. I had called to surprise them. It was not our planned lunch outing day, but it struck me that on veterans day, this kind old WWII vet should be treated to a special day. As I walked up to them, Comer handed me a dog training book. It had a red sticker on it and had obviously been pre-owned.
"Got this for you," he said.
I know he never goes anywhere so the home must have had a rummage sale and he had thought of me and wanted to give me a gift.
"Oh how sweet of you," I said, "But I am the one that should be giving you a gift. I want to thank you right now for your service to our country."
"What for?" he asked. Evelyn beamed at me, happy to see the stranger that always bought her french fries.
"Today is Veteran's Day!" I said.
"Oh...that," he said.
"So has the home made a big special to-do for the veterans?"
"Not a thing," he said, "You are the only one to mention it."
"Evelyn," I said, "You be nice to him today. This is a day that honors Comer."
"Me and 15 million others," he laughed.
"Well I am not taking 15 million others to lunch," I said.
When we got in the car, I put a 50's rock and roll CD on the tape player. Evelyn instantly began singing and Comer laughed, patting her hand. It was going to be a good day. Evelyn was smiling and singing every word. On our last outing, she had remained silent most of the trip.  Even during the  "weem-a-whep, aweem-a-whep" section of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Evelyn was singing. She looked straight ahead, a serious look on her face as she sang that silly refrain. I glanced back at her, laughing.
"You know everything!" I said.
Comer looked lovingly at her, entwining his fingers through hers.

"When I was in Papua New Guinea, there was a Salvation Army man that would fly over regularly from Australia. When it was almost Thanksgiving, I gave him  $100 and told him to get me as many complete turkey dinners with all the fixins' that he could bring back. And he did! He came back with enough dinners for 23 people. So I gave my entire gun crew a full feast on Thanksgiving."
"Didn't the army do that for them?" I asked.
"Oh no, not then. We were blockaded at least part of that time by the Japanese. For two weeks, all we ate was chocolate pudding."
"Chocolate pudding?"
"The Japanese destroyed all our other rations, but for some reason they didn't touch the chocolate pudding."
"You were kept from starvation by chocolate pudding?"
"Yes."
"Do you still like chocolate pudding?"
"Love it," he said.

Arby's is one of Comer's favorite places. As I pulled up to the drive-through window, I tested Evelyn. In her bad days, all she can do is echo the last word I say.
"Evelyn, do you want a chocolate milk shake or a coke?"
"Chocolate milk shake!"
Yes, it was a good day.

When I got back home and was settled back to my book editing at the computer, I heard another loud, "Clunk!"
Impossible, I thought. Birds never fly into our window. That could not have been a second bird in one day smashing against the window. I resumed my editing, but my conscience gnawed at me. What if it had been a bird, and the poor thing was out there suffering?
With a sigh, I went to the back door. In the exact spot where the robin had been, a little wren now sprawled on the deck. It's head was bent at a strange angle and I feared its neck was broken. I carefully cupped my hands around it and straightened its wings. Like the robin, it nestled in my hands. It straightened its head and blinked but didn't struggle. I took it to the side yard, outside the dog fence, and nestled it in some thick soft leaves under the bushes. Then I stood up and smiled encouragingly at the little bird.
It looked up at me, its neck seemingly fine.

I know everything has a purpose. In every event, God is sending a message that ultimately points back to Him. It is something I have believed since I was a very young child. This Veteran's Day, I had been thinking about war. I know there is war in the Bible, and even nations that God helps win battles. But my heart is fully convinced that war is not what God desires. It is an abomination. But are there things worth dying for, worth fighting for? I can list quite a few, not the least of which is protecting my beloved family from harm. Iit may be the way we are forced to confront evil, but it is not the way I wish the world was. It is as unsettling, as jarring, as abhorrent as a beautiful bird in flight smashing against what it thought was clear air into an impenetrable , taunting facsimile of open space. Some survive the collision; some don't.

When I helped Evelyn out of the car, she began shuffling immediately towards the front door of the Home. Comer came around from his side of the car, and I hugged him goodbye.
"You enjoy the rest of this Veteran's Day," I said, "And thank you again. I really appreciate your sacrifice on my behalf."
"War is awful," he said, "You may think you know that, but until you have been through it...."
 He shook his head.
"Well I am glad you survived," I said.
"Almost didn't... the time I..."
I glanced at the front door. Evelyn had opened it and was squeezing through.
"Ohoh," said Comer, "Better go catch her."
I watched the WWII Veteran who had once bought his entire starving gun crew a Thanksgiving Feast now hobble as quickly as he could after his wife. I knew he would catch up with her, and arm in arm they would return to the "Reminisces" unit.  The war zone had changed, but he was still in a battle, I thought.
When I returned home, the bird in the front garden stirred, and then flew to a tree top.

1 Samuel 17: 47
47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

Psalm 55: 17-18
17 Evening, morning and noon
   I cry out in distress,
   and he hears my voice.
18 He rescues me unharmed
   from the battle waged against me,

Hosea 2: 18
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
   with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
   and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
   I will abolish from the land,
   so that all may lie down in safety.

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