In preparing for my interviews of my old WW II friend, Comer, I tackled a 10 pound book in its entirety. The book is about a 3 week period in 1942 when the Japanese attacked little Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea where Comer was stationed. It was the longest, most technical WWII book I have ever read. Now my elbows and wrists were aching NOT from writing, but from hoisting that book around.
"What are you doing with that book?" Asherel asked.
Which reminds me, I had a dream last night that I broke every bone in my body, and reset them all myself. In the dream when I got out of bed the next morning I almost passed out from the pain. All my limbs were swollen and disfigured.
"Maybe 'heal thyself' is not the best advice for you," said my friend in the dream.
One of the things that struck me about Milne Bay is how beautiful that small stretch of beach was before it was decimated by bombings or jungles ripped up and set afire by crashing Kamikaze planes. The thick lush impenetrable jungle of that island harbored one of the deadliest snakes known to mankind, as well as Japanese troops bent on killing every Allied soldier they could find. How could such a beautiful, idyllic setting on the surface, seethe with so much hatred and evil and even death deep within? I remember Comer recounting the scene, as he and the other troops waiting in the airstrip clearing peered into the thick, tangled web of jungle plants. They knew that the lush green profusion of plants and life concealed agents of death. They knew the enemy was there, and they knew they had to be flushed out, or the battle would be lost.
In the end it was fierce and courageous fighting by the Australians that won Milne Bay. I learned while reading the 2 ton book that the famous General MacArthur had said the Australians were the worst army of the Allied forces, and would not fight. He proved to be wrong, luckily for Comer, who felt he owed his survival to the prowess of the Australian corps in the Battle of Milne Bay.
This is the way things often are, I thought. What one sees is just a veneer, a false impression covering the real truth. The peaceful looking idyllic jungle was anything but peaceful or idyllic within. The vision MacArthur had of the lazy Australian troops was far from the true understanding of their skills as soldiers under fire. Things are so often not what they seem. And I think that every one of us is like the Milne Bay jungle. Every one of us have impenetrable places that harbor secrets, regrets, dismays, struggles. But every one of us tries to hide those awful places at times, too ashamed, hurting, or frightened to reveal them. And some of us, like in my dream, try to fix it ourselves with disastrous results.
I thought about our last interview and one story that Comer urged me, "Don't write this one." It was too painful, and I could tell once he had told it to me, he wished he hadn't. I try very hard not to reveal confidences so I will not tell that story. I do think by telling it, he let a little of the poison of those years begin to seep away. I don't think we were meant to cover the truth with a facade of peace when what our hearts are filled with is war. And I don't think we are meant to face the horror of what sometimes confronts us alone, nor can we always fix it ourselves. Sometimes setting our own bones, like in my dream, makes everything worse.
I asked Comer how he accounted for his survival in such unlikely odds against him.
"God must have been watching over me," he said.
I knew he had not believed in God at that time.
"Would you have said that then?" I asked.
"Not on one level," he said, "But you know the saying, there are no atheists in foxholes when the bombs are falling."
That seems likely. I think we are all in foxholes though, sometimes of our own making. There is a battle raging in every soul. The enemy is real and seeks to devour us. Things are often not what they seem in our fellow soldiers of living. But our backs are covered, and we don't face the enemy alone. That's the key to winning this battle.
Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.
Proverbs 16:9, 25, 32-33
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.
There is a way that appears to be right,
but in the end it leads to death.
Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city.
The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the Lord.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways, acknowledge Him,
And He will direct your paths.
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