The closest I've come to war
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
Don't get me wrong, I'm not very close. I'm not about to be deployed; I'm not even in the military. But I work with college students, and one of my favorite students is in the military and was deployed. His special operations unit is attached to the 101st Airborne, which so often seems to land (no pun intended) in the thick of things. You can imagine how often I think of this student, remembering the last time I saw him, clad from head to toe in camouflage.
He'd come in to discuss the details of withdrawing from classes. That took all of two minutes, yet there he sat, rooted in my chair. Thankfully, my calendar was open, so I, too, could just sit - and listen. He told me all sorts of wild stories - about the culture of the front-lines and the ways people cope with life-and-death tensions.
Every once in a while, the terror he was struggling to keep at bay would surface. He asked, for instance, whether we'd put up a plaque in his honor in the quad if he didn't make it back. Without skipping a beat, I said, "No way! You get a plaque for coming home!"
Then he told me about his time in Afghanistan. His job was to try to keep civilians and soldiers who'd surrendered safe, clearing them out of target zones before the bombs dropped. He explained that it was dangerous work (no kidding!) and that he could do damage, but that his goal was to keep people safe. "That's why I volunteered for the special unit," he explained, "even though it took a lot of extra work."
"I'm glad your job is to keep people safe," I said. Then I added, "In a metaphysical universe, there's protection in that." He didn't answer. I doubt he knew what I was talking about, and I didn't go into it. But I needed at least to voice the idea, to air my conviction that his pure motive - to protect the innocent - would shield him from harm. I have to believe that God, who the Bible tells us is Love, protects that kind of purity. It wouldn't make sense for Love to do any less.
Besides, God has a great track record in that regard. Consider Daniel's experience: After spending the night in a den full of hungry lions, he explained, "My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me" (Dan. 6:22). Since Daniel's God is still God, I figure that kind of innocency still shelters one from harm.
Back to my student: He told me some more stories, and we decided he should write a book. We even came up with a title. Maybe it will never see the light of day, but we had fun contemplating it.
Finally, after an hour or so, I had to go. As we stood up, I asked if I could give him a hug good-bye. "Yes!" he answered, without hesitation. Then, at the lobby door, we shook hands, and I said, with certainty, "See you when you get back!"
He added me to his "family and friends" list, and a week later, I got an e-mail with his address. I'm writing once a week until he returns - that seems like the least I can do. I tell him what's happening on campus or share my daughter's latest antics, and always I tell him of my hope that he's finding some moments in his day to be peaceful.
I'm not in favor of this war, but having a student I'm so fond of poised for battle has given me pause - and sent me to my Bible. I like this idea from Deuteronomy: "The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders" (33:12).
This student - with his efforts to keep not only his own countrymen but the so-called enemy safe - has certainly captured my heart. How much truer that must be of God, I think to myself. What a precious spot this young man must hold in Love's heart.
Just today, I got a new address for this student, along with word that he'd moved on from Fort Bragg to "somewhere" overseas. I'm all the more glad I've got a bag of caramels to include with this week's letter.
I leaned on God, and was safe.
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)