My veteran, my hero

A Christian Science perspective.

My big brother was my hero. High on the list of reasons was his military service as a US Army pilot during World War II, shuttling supplies between China and India in a C-46 aircraft. The route took him high over the Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world. He was proud to serve his country, but rarely mentioned it. Then one day he quietly began to tell my sister and me (just school kids during the war years) about a dark night when the plane he was flying almost crashed in that cold, isolated mountainous area.

The aircraft was heavily loaded. At an extreme altitude, the wings began to ice over. That had happened often before, but never so quickly. He had always had time to maintain just enough altitude to clear the mountains. Not this time. The accumulating ice was adding excess weight so rapidly that he knew he had to make a choice. He could either gamble with the lives of the crew, trying to make it to base, or he must jettison the cargo. He quickly decided in favor of the men’s safety. The whole load was dropped into that remote area. The plane regained altitude and finally landed safely with the crew intact.

That dramatic experience brought home an important moral lesson that has helped me countless times. Often the load we need to dump is not useful equipment but mental and emotional clutter. Long after the war ended, I still carried a heavy weight of childish resentment toward the enmity that always thrives in warfare. That enmity, I finally realized, was wrong intention and mad ambition thrust upon the world, but to me it had become a personal issue – I was carrying mental baggage involving the countries where the conflict was initiated. It was a heavy emotional load to carry, and I didn’t know how to jettison it.

When I was introduced to Christian Science, I ran across an article written by Mary Baker Eddy called “Love Your Enemies” ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," pp. 8-13). It was a succinct summary of the commandment of Christ Jesus to love God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves (see Matthew 22:35-40). His teaching and healing work made it abundantly clear that it’s easy enough to love those who love you back. But if we’re serious about following his healing example, we’re not at liberty to pick and choose which neighbor we think is worth loving. Although we don’t concur with their wrongdoing, we love our enemies, too, whether they’re next door or halfway around the world. I knew that in order to follow that profound Christian command, the battle would be with myself, not with my neighbor.

“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mrs. Eddy was telling me how to fight that battle. “Christian Science commands man to master the propensities, – to hold hatred in abeyance with kindness, to conquer lust with chastity, revenge with charity, and to overcome deceit with honesty. Choke these errors in their early stages, if you would not cherish an army of conspirators against health, happiness, and success” (p. 405). In those spiritual qualities I had all the equipment I needed to jettison the mental baggage.  This prayerful action was strengthening me by conquering the enemy within. 

What a genuine, refreshing relief it was to lighten the load of barriers that separate neighbor from neighbor. Whether it’s differences in background, culture, race, religion, or politics that weigh us down, what sweet freedom it is to maintain the safe altitude of simply loving my neighbor. That lesson prevented a good many emotional crashes that might have resulted from carrying the dead weight of enmity.

My brother is no longer with us, but he’s still my hero. Whenever I meet a veteran, I can feel my deiced heart overflowing with the warmth of gratitude for the unselfish service, the quiet courage, the strength, and the lessons I learn from each one. In every veteran, I see my brother, my sister. My hero.

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