Thursday, August 9, 2012

Heroes, Hot Air and Humility

U.S. Army Nurse
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Wouldn't you know it?

I was barely 24 hours away from venting my spleen on this blog when I noticed a post by one of my friends in Faith Village, Erik Cooper, entitled "Don't You Just Love to be Lectured?"

I mean, I barely had time to enjoy my finely crafted polemic before Erik had me thinking about questions like this one:

"Is it just me, or do we seem to have become a society of lecturers?"


I have to tell you that I am not ready at all to back off of the message I posted yesterday.   

And while the odds are still out on whether by doing so I am sticking by my prophetic guns or just stubbornly adding to the problem, Erik's thoughtful prose really challenged me.
He got me to thinking about a portion of my experience last Friday that went untold.  The more I thought about the hidden dimension of my day, the more important it seems to me to tell you what happened.  


You see, I was on the plane because I was flying back from a day at Brooke Army Medical Center.  While there I listened to Colonel Kimberly Smith, the Chief of Nursing Services for the San Antonio Military Medical Center.  

Colonel Smith talked to us about Army nurses.  In the course of her presentation, she told us about having completed three tours of duty in the Middle East- the first one in the early nineties as part of Operation Desert Storm.  Smith told us about treating wounded soldiers, civilians and terrorists in the Army's Mobile Medical Surgical Hospitals.  

"We treated everyone," she said, "and we knew when a terrorist came into the unit because of the way they prepared their bodies for burial prior to carrying out their mission.  You can imagine the moral and emotional dilemma that presents for so many medical personnel."

We spent a large part of our time talking about the toll that kind of work takes on young men and women, but I also heard in Colonel Smith's voice a great deal of pride in the ethic of love for one's enemies that motivated her.  I heard her clear love for the people under her command.


Later that day, as the plane landed at Love Field Airport in Dallas, I stood up and invited the young soldier sitting in my row to go in front of me.  Although I was still steaming from the diatribe of the man behind us (see Tuesday's post for that story), something made me look more closely at her.

I asked her about her travel.  She told me that she was an Army reservist and had just spent a week polishing her skills in combat medicine.  I told her about Colonel Smith and some of the things she had shared with my group earlier in the day.

Corporal Fowler, I think her name was, immediately came alive.  She smiled a broad smile and said, "That is exactly what I want to do!  I am scheduled to begin my first tour in October.  I've been training to work in that kind of situation.  I can't wait to get there!"

I had to look away from her for a moment.  I am a pretty intense person on an ordinary day, but pack me into a crowded commuter jet, riding between guns blazing Bubba and this young woman and you are guaranteed to see some intensity.

After a moment I looked back at her.  She was- she is- much younger than my daughter.  Innocent, eager, ready to make a difference.  I wanted to put my arms around her and hug on her like I hugged on Megan the day before she flew off to France for a year.

I decided to offer her a handshake and a cliche that could not have been more sincere if it were my dying words,  "I hope you know I am grateful for your service."

"Oh, it is nothing, sir, really," she responded with a smile, then turned to follow the other passengers off the plane.  


I thought very hard about the two stories I heard that day- the combat veteran who spoke so movingly in the morning about soldiers like the young woman I had just encountered.

And while I do not regret anything I wrote yesterday, I am grateful for Erik, and for his challenge, because if I had not read those words, I might have let this story recede into the background, washed over and maybe drowned out by my bitterness about words spoken by someone posing as a strong man.

Thanks for stopping by today.  Really, thank you.  These stories are my only gifts, but they are precious to me.  Now I want to leave you with one final gift, stirred up in me not by words but by the actions of two women we all owe so much to . . .

"O beautiful for heroes proved 
In liberating strife. 
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life."

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