08 March 2014

Helping Hand... or Not?

Places like this freak you out. You hate the smell -- urine and antiseptic. You hate the feeling of sadness that settles over you the minute you walk through the door. But you love your grandfather, and that's why you're here. To see him -- possibly for hte last time -- before you go off for months to another country. 

You feel a little guilty, as you pass by room after room, trying not to glance through open doorways at the men and women lying there, mouths open, TVs droning in competition with one another. Your grandfather loved to travel more than just about anything. Now his travels are behind him while yours stretch ahead. You tell yourself he's happy for you and admires what you're doing. You just hope you can make him proud. 

He lies propped on the bed. His face is the color of ash and though he still has his pot belly, his arms and legs look thinner to you, depleted. He smiles when he sees you, though it only registers on one side of his face. When he takes your hand, though, his grip is strong. 

His lips are always chapped now, probably because he can't easily sip water on his own. You stopped on the way for a tube of lip balm, which you take out, remove the cap and hand to him. He can't speak, but you can see he's grateful.
He raises the tube to his lips, his hands trembling, but he can't quite get it to work. The lip balm hovers an inch above his face. He puckers his lips and tries again. Still, he can't control his hand well enough to do it. 

You feel stuck in place, numb. You want to reach out and help him, take the tube from his hands and apply the ointment to his parched lips. Its a simple thing, but you're frozen. All of your life he's been strong and independent. You don't want to take that from him. But you don't want him to suffer, either. 

You stand there, watching him struggle. You feel awkward, unable to bridge that small distance. 

He drops his hand, and the tube of lip balm rolls onto the blanket in front of him. All you have to do is pick it up, touch it to his lips. Pick it up and help him. 

What do you do? (pp 59-60)

These words are from a devotional-type book, an adaptation of an earlier book by the same author, written specifically for teen boys by Eric Greitens I guess technically, you'd call the book "inspirational"  Frankly, it is not the typical type of book I'd ever read. But it caught my eye and so I picked it up. After the fact, I'm so glad I did.

Let me start off by saying this. It ISN'T a "biblical" devotional type book. In fact, I'm pretty sure the guy who wrote would not consider himself a born again follower of Jesus - although he readily admits to praying and belief in God. But he's got some good things to say and a challenging perspective to offer - one that I would think worthwhile for most young men of today.

He shares about how the motivation behind his choice and commitment to serve in the military grew out of firsthand knowledge and experience with people who were experiencing the kindness and help from the United States... but wondering where those who had had a reputation for protecting the weak in those first moments of crisis had been during their first moments of need. At one point, speaking of the needs of displaced and refugee children (and others) in Croatia as a result of Serbian genocide, he says: "We can certainly donate money and clothing, and we can volunteer in the refugee camps. But in the end, these acts of kindness come after the fact. After people have been killed, their homes burned, their lives destroyed. Yes, the clothing, the bread, the school -- all of it helps and is very much appreciated. But I suppose we have to behave the way we would if any person -- our kids, our sisters, brothers, parents -- were threatened. If we really care about these people, we have to be willing to protect them from harm." (p. 81)

Now, I'm not an anti-military pacifist - but as of late, I've been wondering if, as a country, our military actions have been the best choice we could have made. Afghanistan... Iraq... have we actually helped or have we made things worse or does the status quo remain - those are all questions I ask and I can see the validity in arguments for all of the above. So, frankly, I really don't know. I certainly wonder if the motivations given for military action actually match up with the hidden and just as real motivations that no one will talk about.

I think that was one of the things I most loved about this book. I loved how this man chose to be a soldier, chose to place himself between and become the protector - for not just lofty ideals he believed in, but also of real people living in desperate situations during drastic times. At the end of the day, right or wrong, his courageous actions were motivated by a heart compelled towards compassionate action.

THAT is a lesson any young man... every person... needs to not only learn but to live.

If that were you, standing there next to your grandpa in the scene quoted above, how could you act with both courage and compassion?

I wonder how our world might change if we spent some time pondering that question in many, if not all, of the decisions we face on a regular basis...

But I'll let him speak for himself. Here's his conclusion:
"On the frontlines - in humanitarian crises, in wars overseas, and around some kitchen tables here at home - I'd seen that peace is more than the absence of war and that a good life entails more than the absence of suffering. A good peace, a solid peace, a peace in which communities can flourish, can only be built when we ask ourselves and each other to be more than just good, and better than just strong. And a good life, a meaningful life, a life in which we can enjoy the world and live with purpose, can only be built if we do more than live for ourselves." (p. 247)

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