We sat in the tiny café just off main street; a big yellow school bus was slowly approaching; kids from a nearby neighborhood crowded around the lamppost on the corner, some reading, some punching each other, others standing apart seemingly disinterested. Twelve pair of eyes seemingly were lost in watching the children.
“Ah, to be that age again.” Don, a 79 year old retired military chaplain, was always good for a story, and I could feel one coming. We had gathered for our Wednesday morning prayer breakfast. Our group had dwindled down to 6 souls, I suspect as much from the scheduled early hour as much as anything else.
Hal nodded toward the window. “I never rode a bus. Just walked about a mile to the school house.”
“Uphill both ways?” Jim, the local Penny’s manager laughed and sipped his coffee.
“When I was a lad,” Don began, “we walked because there were very few cars.” He leaned back in his chair. “Walking with brothers and sisters and all the other kids was quite a social event. We went to a small schoolhouse. All the grades were together at least for grade school, and then if you were inclined and your father did not have use for you on the farm, and you could find a way into town, you could go to the high school. “
I wiped my hands. “Well, Don, you did all right, you have a Divinity Degree.”
“I was very lucky. My father got a milk route after World War II and I rode with him to high school. Then, after Korea I went on to college and seminary. “ Don pointed at the kids. “I pray that those kids don’t ever have to face the kind of war we went through in Viet Nam, and now I fear their older siblings may be facing in the Middle East.”
Hal motioned for the waitress to bring more coffee. “Think of the ruined childhoods of those warring nations. ‘ He wiped his eye. “There were children in Viet Nam without expression, the joy of being a child had disappeared.” Hal was the senior member of our group, at 84 years of age he commanded the table.
Don interrupted. “Throughout the Bible, children have been the victims of war.” He scooted back. “Think of the wars of Solomon – whole peoples destroyed, have we come so far? Where were the children then? With their mothers? In the name of Christianity we have in today’s terms robbed the childhood from children by waging war on their parents political idealism. “
Jim poured creamer in his coffee. “Maybe someday we won’t send men and women to make war on other nations.”
Don laughed. “No, we will sit in an office and push a button and destroy our enemies. Except, our enemies will do the same thing. Just as the Boy Scouts were the little league for military in the 60s and 70s, so the video game industry will be the precursor for the military of the new millennium. “
“I see your point.” My water glass was sweating and I quickly sopped up the flow with a napkin.
Don continued. “Don’t agree too fast. As Christian men we can work to change all that. We need to preserve childhood. Like, I don’t want my grandchildren learning 3rd. person death; becoming so jaded that pushing a button to destroy another entity is just a game.”
Hal tossed a dollar tip on the table, we all followed suite. “Ya know, there’s a group in Nevada who fly the drones in Iraq from a keyboard on a Nevada base. Then, they go home at night. “
Don creased his dollar bill. “What did I say? There is a generation who was attuned to push button gamesmanship. That was their childhood. The military is applying that knowledge so those young men and women can sit in a padded game chairs and destroy human lives 5000 miles away. Trained in childhood.”
Jim began to get his jacket on. “With that I have to get out of here.”
Hal bowed his head and began the round of prayers. Every man mentioned children when it was his turn to pray.
The yellow school bus was no where to be seen as we walked to our cars.
Don waved, "Let the children be children. Pray on it."
Five men shouted "Amen" and waved back.
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