PRESS ON

One of my most enjoyable activities while stationed in France with the US Army in the late 1950’s was participating in a Little Theater group. I played deputy File in “The Rainmaker.” We did so well with that production that we were offered an opportunity to travel to other BASEC Command posts with our next play, “The Hasty Heart.”

This story was set in a British military hospital in the Burmese jungle toward the end of WWII. A group of Allied soldiers had been there long enough to develop a strong bond. They felt challenged when a new patient, a Scot named Lachie, arrived. He seemed to be a picture of health, oblivious to the reality that sudden death from kidney failure loomed over him. The story revolved around the group bonding with Lachie only to have him lash out at them later when he learned he was dying. I played the role of the hospital doctor, Lt. Col. Dunn, who had to tell Lachie the truth about his condition.

Our cast included nine men and a woman who got to know each other as we traveled and worked together. One man especially stands out in my memory. His name was John, and he was an Englishman who fittingly played a British soldier. He told us about being orphaned as a child during the German Blitzkrieg. We felt with him the fear that had surged through his body every time air raid sirens sounded, and the earth quaked under bombardment. John revealed some of the emotional baggage he still carried. He also talked about the positive ways strangers in the shelters helped him cope when his parents died. When I knew him, John was serving in the United States Army to search out who he was and where he “belonged.” It was a search for peace and hope in the “new normal” of the postwar world.

I have traveled to Britain twice in my life. The first time as a GI on leave, short on money, looking for a way to get through five days until my prepaid flight back to France. The challenge was to stretch twenty dollars to cover meals and lodging while I took in the city of London and its culture. On the train from the airport I shared my dilemma with a member of the Scots Guards who gave me tips on places I should see. One of those was Queen Elizabeth’s birthday parade at Buckingham Palace. He also took me with him to the Union Jack, a British serviceman’s club where I got a room with a hot bath and one meal a day for sixty-five cents a night. I learned the Brits have an expression they use when facing a tough challenge. They say, “Press on.”

That phrase seems tailor-made for all of us in these days during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Frequently I have heard references to World War II as people react to the current upheaval that has turned our everyday life upside down. Thankfully, we’re not dodging Blitzkrieg bombs, but we distance ourselves from others, wear face masks, constantly wash our hands, and use sanitizers to prevent the spread of an illness that kills as surely as bombs falling from the sky.

Millions among us have lost jobs and incomes overnight. Businesses have closed from coast to coast, many unable to rebound. Fear is drilled into us daily by non-stop news speculations, and political reactivity. Dedicated health care providers in overcrowded hospitals endure the pressure of long, grueling hours, and constant losses among their patients. Combined with it all is the daily struggle to find essential, but often scarce, supplies. We want to somehow normalize life and feel ourselves standing on solid ground again.

During these months I have thought back to John, a frightened child in a war-torn city, struggling as an adult to make sense out of the imponderable. As a child he learned to “press on.” He was still doing it during our Little Theater days. Nowadays I feel a fresh bond with him as “pressing on” becomes my own reality.

In “The Hasty Heart,” a group of men had their comfort zone threatened by the arrival of a brash Scottish soldier. Tension ensued, then eased, only to be refueled later when he felt the group had betrayed him with false friendship. It was an act of kindness from one of the men, a Burmese native who could not speak English, that softened the Scot’s heart. Somehow that crew pressed on, learning to embrace someone they’d once feared and denied. The play ended with Lachie joining the others in a group photograph, symbolic of the transcendent bond that prevailed despite the pressures threatening to unravel it.

In this day of the COVID-19 virus, we each face the need to “press on,” resisting the corrupting power of fear. We need to bond with each other beyond the level of divisive rhetoric so we can affirm hope through a shared belief that the last word is one of Goodness from the soul of our Creator.

Goodness does prevail. To find it we must, despite all forces to the contrary, grow together in the power of love, trust, faith and hope.

Press on.

Go Forward with Faith

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Today would have been my parents’ 85th wedding anniversary. They were married in her parents’ Cincinnati home at 4:30 the afternoon of May 5, 1935. Their entrance into adulthood was marked by the 1929 stock market crash and its aftermath. Although things were tough, they seemed unfazed by it all. Dad was a salesman with no job security, changing employment frequently. Mom was the secretary in a coal company’s local office. They launched their life together with a combined weekly income of thirty-nine dollars.

Following a brief out-of-town visit with his parents, using a borrowed car, Hubert and Mary “came home” to a third-floor apartment accessed by a rickety, self-operated cargo elevator. Ever romantic, Mom called it “Seventh Heaven,” quoting the title of a popular song. As I wrote in my book, “When Love Prevails” (Kindle Books), despite all the uncertainty, “life was new. They could do anything–they had each other. And, so they did, for 64 years until Dad’s death in 1999.

The love my parents shared, and the love of God they came to experience richly, took them through a roller-coaster of ups and downs that stamped their lives with eternal blessings. The Great Depression was a horrendous time in our nation. Somehow it tempered them for what they would endure: World War II, the birth of two handicapped children and the challenges they presented, a physical move to another state, the surgical correction of their daughter’s heart condition, and the founding of a residential school for severely physically handicapped, but mentally alert, young adults. The latter was a positive adaptation to their cerebral palsied son’s extreme challenges. They found deep faith through adversity. It sustained them through an emerging future filled with unknowns.

Today, we are immersed in another time of disruptive uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a time of restricted social interactions, massive job losses, small business vulnerability, and huge health uncertainty. Our inner resources and outward responses seem tested to the limit. No one knows how or when this virus will dissipate and the pandemic end. All we know is what exists in our personal reality one moment at a time.

As I write this, background cries abound to end the lock down, reopen businesses, and get things back to “normal.” Contrasted with those cries are the statistics that continue to mount with evolving COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. Nobody knows what “normal” will look like from here forward, but we can know this: the way to go through this time is to move forward with faith. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes offers wisdom that enables us to grasp the uncertainties of life with faith that sustains the soul. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” He goes on to name a world of compromising opposites which, when embraced with faith, bring completeness and blessings. There is balance and healing in his wisdom.

In this time of social and personal turmoil we would do well to move forward, not with fear, but with faith.

 

Clouds of Confusion

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Sometimes I feel bombarded by clouds of confusion that masquerade as communication.  It happens on those morning talk shows where co-hosts engage each other or guests in trivialities with increasing volume.  One speaks, the other interrupts to shift the focus, two or more people talking past each other.  Sound bullets fly randomly through the airwaves, striking unknown listener targets. 

I recall a live fire exercise during my army basic training.   Walking through a field with loaded M-1 rifles (I know, I’m an old guy!)  we were to fire at pop up targets when they appeared.  On one occasion a  guy behind me fired without a clear view of the target.  I actually heard the bullet whiz past my helmet.  The training sergeant chewed him out and a moment of confusion became an occasion for clarification.

Sometimes our words are like that bullet, flying right past someone’s ear.  Words aimed for effect, not connection.  Sound bytes rather than discourse.  One-up-manship.  Nobody listening.  Nobody framing fresh insights from cognitive clarity.  Perhaps this is the new normal for conversation.  We talk past each other.  We listen only to ourselves and our own thoughts.  We trade words and miss relationships.

For several years my wife and I have enjoyed Saturday breakfast at a local fast food restaurant.  We take our newspaper and read it while we eat.  Recent renovations resulted in digital kiosks where the staff prefers customers place their orders.  I tried it once, but found I still had to get in line at the counter to pay with cash.  So, I still go to the counter to place my order.

One Saturday when I stepped up it felt like the clerk dismissed my words.  She pointed to the kiosk.  “You can order over there.”

I replied, “Actually, I’d rather…”

“I can show you how to use it.”

I began to explain why I preferred ordering at the counter.  Mid-sentence she broke in, “It will take your card.”

“I understand that, but….”

Impatiently she interrupted again.  “It’ll take your debit card.”

Now I was the one getting impatient.  “Look, I just want to place my order here.”

With an exasperated expression she said,  “So, what do you want?” 

She entered my order in the computer.  I handed her the cash, and she gave me my receipt and a placard with a number on it.  “Put this on the table.  We’ll bring it to you.”

I went to the table and began reading the newspaper.  In the background I heard various numbers called as they brought orders out.   Suddenly I realized we should have been served by now, so I went back to the counter.

“Excuse me, can you check on my order?”

With a blank expression and flat tone she said, “You’ll have to get in line, Sir.”

I dutifully worked my way back up to the counter and handed her my receipt.  She took it, disappeared for several minutes, then returned.  “Your order was served.”

“I’m sorry, but it wasn’t.”

With a sigh, “They brought it out and called your number, but you didn’t respond.  They thought you’d left.”

“Perhaps I didn’t hear it then, but the placard was on the table in plain…”

“Your order was served,” she said, looking past me to the next customer.’

“May I speak to your manager?”

She abruptly left the register and returned saying, “What did you order?  We’ll do it over.”

I told her and she replaced the order, got it filled and handed it to me on a tray.  When I got to the table my wife noticed one of her items was missing.  Reluctantly I returned to the clerk who was methodically directing customers to the kiosks.  She gave me a bored look, then went and got the item.  As I took it back to the table another server approached, handing me a tray with the same thing.”

I smiled and pointed to my tray.  “Thanks, but we have everything now.”

Looking past me she said, “This is yours.”

“But I already have my order.”

“We owe you this because you didn’t get your order.”

And so it went.

Sometimes I find a lot of conversations going this way.  It’s like we’ve become a computer-programmed population of people who no longer connect brain with tongue.  We rattle off our word bullets randomly, primed by programmed responses, never connecting.  Then I wonder, is anybody really listening?  Do we ever really hear each other?

Perhaps the problem is that we’ve allowed ourselves to be programmed into the stratosphere of digital responses.  Desensitized, we’ve become lost in clouds of confusion.   I wish sarge was here…maybe he could restore some clarity.