Saturday, May 26, 2012

IN a Dry and Thirsty Land

This has been a particularly meaningful Memorial weekend for me. I have now interviewed four WWII veterans, all around 90 years old, in the past week. They are all towers of strength, remarkable men. The 92 year old I spoke with yesterday is still mucking out horse stalls and hauling 40 gallon buckets of water. They seem to have all lived good and honorable lives since the war, with an unbelievable sense of duty and love for country. The vet I spoke with yesterday still helps Viet Nam vets get disability and other benefits from the VA that had been denied them. These WWII veterans do not live selfish lives. Every one of them seems to have the desire to serve others.

I stood on the back porch this morning looking up at all the magnificent towering oaks in our back yard. The severed rope from where the horse swing detached swayed in the morning breeze. I want to rehang the horse swing. The limb it had been hung on was far too high for us to reach. When arborists were here to take down a dying oak a few years ago, they had scaled that enormous tree and hung our rope on the one straight and solid limb they could find. I looked carefully at all the dozens of trees in our yard. I could not see one single other solid, straight limb in the whole backyard forest. Not another limb was present that would be strong enough to hold the swing.

Strength and courage and conviction and selflessness and sense of duty and love of country and of others....those qualities sometimes seem as rare as that straight and sturdy limb in our back yard. Thank you all you veterans, past and present that fought for something bigger than yourselves. I am only beginning to learn the magnitude of what you did for me.

Sacrifice is almost inexplicable to many. But it is at the crux of the authentic Christian life. Nearly everyone has at least heard the story of Jesus taking the punishment of the whole world, that we might not have to endure the punishment we deserved. God was showing us with the most difficult example conceivable that no one enters a relationship without sacrifice. Not even God. The idea of sacrifice of self is repugnant to those who prefer to look at life as a big grab bag of whatever I can seize before anyone else. Sacrificial love is sometimes portrayed as weakness, and certainly not in line with the idea of self love and exaltation of the individual above all else. The WWII veteran I spoke with yesterday had been married 67 years. 67 years! No one can tell me that his wife was spectacularly perfect. None of us are. But something in the character of those two people helped them to put aside selfish interests to maintain the interest of the family first and foremost.

I looked up at the tall oak in my backyard to see if perhaps any promising limbs were growing. Might one stretch our straight and strong in time for me to hang the swing for a grandchild one day?

Ezekiel 19: 11-14
Its branches were strong,
fit for a ruler's scepter.
It towered high
above the thick foliage,
conspicuous for its height
and for its many branches. But it was uprooted in fury
and thrown to the ground.
The east wind made it shrivel,
it was stripped of its fruit;
its strong branches withered
and fire consumed them. Now it is planted in the desert,
in a dry and thirsty land. Fire spread from one of its main branches
and consumed its fruit.
No strong branch is left on it
fit for a ruler's scepter.'
"This is a lament and is to be used as a lament."

-save a dog-

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