Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My war story

We watched a movie the other night that J had recommended--The Valley of Elah, about a father trying to discover what had happened to his son who'd gone AWOL days after returning from a stint in Iraq. It was a movie that kept me awake half the night afterwards, thinking of what happens to our sons when they go to war. And I thought of my son. In the years since J's presence in my life, I've seen many war movies, beginning with Platoon, which I saw a mere weeks before his birth. That was a memorable experience because the baby jumped every time a gun fired on screen. I don't know if you saw that movie, but if you did, you'll realize what was happening to me in that movie theater. Beve and the young male college student we'd taken with us to the movie both ended up touching my stomach because they couldn't believe the way he was flinching from those explosive sounds. I think it was only our hands on my belly that kept me from fleeing. Looking back on it, I can't believe I stayed. What on earth was I thinking to expose my baby to that horror? My baby son and war--

Twenty years later, which would make it last June, that baby son walked into my house and informed me that he had joined the marines. I was sitting exactly where I am right now, and as I write this, I can instantly feel the same tears that clouded my eyes, and the same fall off the cliff in my heart. I could barely speak. J believes in this country and its military as protector of the world. He believes that military service is a prerequisite of public servants, and though he doesn't know what his highest ambition might be, he didn't want to disqualify himself from anything at the age of 20. And he knows that his parents do not share these beliefs. He knows particularly that his mother is pretty close to a pacifist. He knew this that day when he walked into our living room, already having made the decision. Made it without discussing it with the Beve and me. There was much discussion in the next few days, though, I can tell you that. When he took the military test and got such a phenomenal score that the marines swore him in on the spot--telling him that it didn't matter that his dad had made him promise NOT to do that. When the recruiters wouldn't even talk to Beve or me. We just kept talking. And when the departure date was given as a mere two weeks away!!! I was furious, scared and felt impotent. Then J said, his voice a little trembly, "I know you're mad. Will you still write me?" And that changed everything. I became on his side. "NOTHING would keep me from writing you," we said.

But I'm his mother. And I know my son. I know--I KNOW--who he is. What 20 year old enlists, thinking they'll die, or change so much they'll bear no resemblance to their previous self by what they see, do and live through? But I knew him. This was our sensitive son who hurts for the hurting and could never bear to see kids picked on. I couldn't imagine him in war. All the things that are making him a man I am proud of the marines would try to stomp out of him. The world doesn't value what God does. True? But I also didn't want to see J fail. I didn't want him to not make it through basic. I began to pray that somehow God get him out of this in such a way that would surprise and make J feel good about himself.

A couple of days later, I was sitting outside one morning, drinking my tea, when J came out (very early for him!). He said, "I have to call the recruiter. I have to change an answer on my application." He hadn't slept all night, thinking about it. See, years ago, J had a very serious shoulder injury. It left him unable to play sports all through school. He saw specialist after specialist. But on his application, when asked if there were any medical problems that might preclude him from joining the marines, he first said yes, but the recruiters suggested he change the answer to no. But our truth-teller, who had always been a teller of truth (he used to climb into the car after school and tell me every thing he'd done wrong all day, even when no one else knew about it), couldn't live with lying. So he called the recruiter who tried to talk him out of changing that answer. The recruiter was MAD that J would decide to tell the truth. Then, not one but two people up the ladder of command called J also to talk to him about keeping his 'no' answer to that question. But J stuck to his guns. "This shoulder will probably disqualify you from all military service," he was told repeatedly. "Do you want to risk that?"
"I can't live with myself if I don't tell the truth," J said.

We told him he became a man over this. Yes, he was ultimately disqualified from all military service, as predicted. And yes, I belted out not one but a whole Broadway musical of thanks for it. He was changed by this experience. He never held a gun, never looked any death in the face except the death of a dream--and that's been plenty hard. He's taken a long year to try to figure out how to get to where he wants to go without it. But in the end, God was faithful. Did you notice that? He didn't have to go, and it was through his very own strength that he didn't. So I have every confidence that 'faithful is He who has brought J here, and He will also lead him on...'

Sometimes, our very present help in times of trouble is simply remembering that God has been faithful in mighty ways in the past.

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