Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: GATHERING (07/14/16)
- TITLE: Humbled and Honoured
By Noel Mitaxa
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I looked up, and a sea of faces in the packed chapel met my gaze. Wrinkled, wizened faces that wore memories of what no-one should ever see, let alone ever experience. Yet these memories drew them together; not just today, but years before I’d been born...
When the world had been plunged into a gauntlet of fear, they had risen to the challenge. A manic, embittered Austrian corporal had inveigled his way to seizing power, plunging Europe into war and threatening every nation with an Atlantic coastline; while Asia-Pacific nations were also being subjugated by brutally-efficient Japanese forces that regarded POWs as barely sub-human.
Today they were united by symbols: regimental ties, berets or jackets; though with contrasting physical capacities. Some ram-rod straight, maintaining an unmistakable military bearing; while others struggled for balance on walking-frames or similar clumsy-looking assemblages. But quietly mocking their obvious frailty, the thought crossed my mind, “Turn you fellas loose for an hour or so and how much damage could you could still inflict?”
They were gathering to farewell yet another fallen member of their diminishing ranks. Looking into their eyes – some shining with pride, others misting with still-unspeakable horrors - I paused to say thank you.
“You have given―and risked―your best years to buy freedom for us and our kids. Now they can choose to learn German or Japanese at school, instead of at the point of a gun, and bought the freedom for us to trade and build prosperity with former enemies. We owe you.”
What could I tell them about life and death―without sounding like a pious platitude―against their experience? Of living with death as a constant, uninvited guest at their foxholes, their tanks, their ships, their planes or in their concentration camps? All the while never knowing if their next breath might be their last, at the hands of any concealed or swaggering enemy?
They had lived with juxtaposition: heroism and cowardice; stupidity and inspiring creativity; tenderness and brutality. They had been surrounded by the stench of death, and their nostrils had finally fanned in the fresh fragrance of freedom.
These veterans had returned to their families and communities to start rebuilding in spite of post-war shortages as the economy shifted to peace-time production. Their dream of a new world-order sustained most through the changes they found―and achieved―upon returning. But without any option of debriefing, many others had been unable to break free from their years of living at the edge of an ever-smouldering, emotional volcano.
I was out of my depth on any personal level; having never worn one of those government-issue “one size fits all” uniforms.
Humbled―but I was not there to represent me.
I was honoured to stand with a line of padres who, throughout the hell-hole of their drawn-out military conflict, had kept the rumour of God and the availability of his grace alive for them.
Against the lack of any verbal assurances, their actions and the defiance of their commitment had resonated with credible reassurance.
After decades of peace and prosperity, I could now add to this reassurance. They had been plunged by the shifting sands of political forces into the overwhelming, institutionalised evil of total warfare. However, through Jesus Christ, an unchangeable God had personally stepped into every uncertainty, heartache and hatred that still comes across our path.
Not to remove these ugly realities, but to take their full effects forever on himself through his own death, so he could defeat them by rising again. Better still, we may now receive the inner strength of his love―whatever we endure―so we may also rise above the evil, and begin to sow his eternal peace into our hearts and into our spheres of influence for however long we are here.
Did my message strike home into every heart there that day? Despite my desire for this effect, I’d have to say no, but that won’t stop me from the privilege of gently inviting people at funeral gatherings to tap into the grace that still amazes.
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