Thank you

Jill and I watched Band of Brothers last week.  Two a night.

It is one thing to think, “I have many, many people to thank so I could rest at ease today with my family.”  It is another thing to see their story told by Ambrose, Speilberg, and Hanks so poignantly — and then see the old men speak before each installment, who lived, fought and endured so much in battle, and in so many nightmares since.

Thank you.

To my wounded friends, who served in a war you may or may not have agreed with in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Your wounds, visible and not, make getting out of bed every morning a matter of courage.

Thank you.

To  you who minister, fight hunger and hopelessness for kids and people we feel hopeful for on Thanksgiving — and forget on Black Friday.

Thank you.

For you sweating the launch of your little business.  Your faith is stunning.  If people buy, you eat.  If not, you worry.

Thank you.

To you first responders who spend some time bored and the rest on the abyss of terror.  The EMTs, docs, and nurses as well who reach the end of technology and bite your lips in hope on any given night in the ER.

Thank you.

I can go on like this for a while.  And I should.  And so should you.

Thank you is not an emotion.  It is something we invent a way to say to people who don’t do it for the praise, but will fight back tears on the day we demonstrate ours.

Many heroes need one of us to say, “Thank you, hero.”

Hebrews’ writer said: Invent ways to encourage one another to good works.  You know what is so cool about the book of Hebrews in the bible?  The writer is faceless, nameless, the object of much conjecture: just like the people I have to invent ways to thank.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Threshold

For years I have whispered a fleeting prayer when I see someone walking on a prosthesis.  My first personal encounter was with a beautiful 12-year-old who lost her left foot and half her shin that we amputated in surgery one winter night.  She came back a few months later and we danced a little in the hall of the hospital — her on her new prosthesis.  I never got over the courage in a smile from that child.

Wars and accidents have increased the number of friends and new acquaintances sporting the latest in prosthetic fashion.  All face pain: mental, emotional, actual, continual, and memory based.  All must make daily overcoming part of their diet and regimen.

So my prayer is for their daily courage.  Courage to face the pain.  Courage to gear up for battle for the new day.

Courage to cross the threshold of his or her door and go out into the world and live life.

It takes continual courage, a reservoir of bravery, a small surplus of audacity to leave the womb or nest and cross the threshold into exposed life, doesn’t it?

And so for us all.  Even being down for a couple of days with a virus, and then we must get up and go back out to work.  Go back to school.  Go back to the project running over budget with no answer on the drawing board, yet.  Go back to fighting for a marriage.  Go back and face today’s battle.

So today’s whispered prayer is:  help me cross the threshold and step back into life, if not fearlessly, then swallowing my doubts and smiling enough to keep everyone else guessing! And help me use my abilities well, rather than as if someone only strapped them on to me yesterday in rehab.


Dining in an expensive room

I am in an expensive room. Sometimes I get to sit in such a room. We are in the closing ceremony for the Veteran’s Entrepreneurship Program (VEP).

The room has our twenty five veterans who we selected from hundreds of applicants, and they amaze and humble me. They have served around the world. They have paid high prices and some wear their wounds where we can see them, and all of them put their chins up and shoulders back and soldier on. They have taken prices they pay in stride for serving as a part of the contract. Honor to have served is the byproduct that none of these question. Camaraderie is thick in the air.

These people are competitive, but their sense is that they compete against the world, and they would not dare leave any of the group behind. Compete, indeed.

They cheer for each other. Loudly. Like family.

They all came in wondering if they had what it takes to be an entrepreneur. They all were grateful for the chance to come and participate; and they seem clueless as to how much of an honor it was for us to serve them, teach them, encourage them.

We listened to Matt, VEP alum from only a year ago, over 1,000 combat flying hours, and a new business selling family games in 1,000 stores. Humble, quiet, succeeding. He spoke quietly but clearly, “You can do this, as well.”

They have defended our country, and have asked a helping hand to learn how to build it, one company at a time.

So we sat in the same room tonight, the day before they scatter to the wind to their posts, homes, places of possibility. I sat and ate in a room alongside people who donated the money to fly them in, train them, house them, feed them, and watch them flourish before our eyes. Some donate because their son or daughter passed away on the “frontier of freedom”, giving their lives for us to sit here, free, blessed, misty-eyed, and proud. I sat with the vets who have seen the “frontier of freedom” and fought to preserve it for us, and paid prices unaskeimage.jpegd, carrying some of those costs for the rest of their lives.

I sat humbled. Okay, misty eyed. And I remembered what I have remembered at the monuments on the Mall in DC, in the national cemeteries, and at the funerals of a few heroes.

People have paid a lot for me to sit here. People have paid an incomprehensible amount for me to sit here and have this storm of emotions whispering to me, how blessed I am.

Trains’ Wail

The bitter cold out in the unproteced pasture found no break in the bleak, gray on dead grass and gray rock features.  

Eyes gave way to hearing for some relief as I worked all day on a well.  And the diesels’ singing caught my attention and began to haunt me.  A major line lay to the east six miles away with a siding, and to the west nine miles, after driving across Oologah lake.  

So the behemoths trumpeted warnings as they approached crossings, gave differing toots and greetings as they passed other trains on the sidings.  The wind carried some songs as if they were just past the cows on the ridge just this side of sunset on sunny days.  Not this day, though.  

The wails of these mournful, melancholy monsters whose men smell of oil and long days sound like the siren call of wolves.  Their intelligence and remorseless hunger to gobble miles through gray days and frightening nights alike is a given, a constant, a hidden-behind-trees backdrop to life in the country.  

And like people who take wolves for granted unless surprised in the wild to be frightened like a rabbit caught out of its borrough, the siren song of diesels is forgotten, placed in the sensory background with wind and rain.  But also like wolves, these behemoths with unyielding steel mouths rarely lose when people want to race them.  Racing alongside them in parallel tracks is exhilirating like seeing a wolf from the car and listening to the kids ooh and ahh.  Racing a Siren to the crossing is smart like covering yourself in blood and hikng toward a howling pack unarmed.

So the pink granite on the headstone of the beautful softball player is testimony.  

She barely got in front of the wolf that snatched her life and didn’t even grind to a stop for a quarter of a mile to stand there shuddering while the warning claxon continued dinging for the girl who had roared past it as her last act on earth.  

You can hear the mournful wailing of the diesels standing there in the cold gray by her headstone.  You can also hear them not far from her house when the TV and radios have gone quiet for the night.  The bags under her parents’ eyes and gray hair mark a place taken forever, filled by no one, no matter how much they love them.  

Mournful.  Wailing in the night, both for the life snuffed out in the maw of the beast, and the man horrified to see that she has miscalculated and nothing in this world will keep him from being at the brake as his diesel drags her like a rag doll in the mouth of an enraged wolf.

So I sit in this bed and listen to hear the diesels’ song into the night, just there in the background of the songs around us, sad at the passing and amazed at the courage of those who live, listening to the wail and living their lives in spite of wolves that wish it had happened differently.   

Thaksgiving and Platitudes

What does it mean to be “thankful”? 

I know, it means having a distended stomach, and wondering if you will live until leftover sandwiches!  Watching TV and playing like all the people in the house are not getting on your last nerve.

The truly simple and strangely absent definition is that “thankful” means what we do tomorrow. 

Some people will return to risking everything they have to build a new business.  Some will turn and continue to invest their fifth, twenty-sixth year or more into their marriage and family.  Some will go back on patrol of our borders or in other countries.  Many will go back to work in stores, hospitals, police and fire stations, governmental offices doing jobs we really don’t want to know about. 

Thanksgiving and thankful go way beyond any specific emotion, ultimately to some form of courage or grit where I return to life, roll up our sleeves, and do what needs to be done, that has fallen to me.  Glorious or mundane, courageous or grinding, I do what falls to me to do. 

However tired, full, joyous, or achingly empty, it shows us all how ‘thankful’ you are and for what, really. 

Tolkien’s Translations

I am not touching JRR Tolkien’s etymological and philogical scholarship or astounding work in creating the languages of Middle Earth.  I am not touching them because the scope and brilliance is beyond me.  Humility 101 was hard for me, but this one is obvious.

I simply want to think briefly on two events that he translated into his works: one lovely and the other harrowing.  

The lovely one came while his beloved Edith sang and danced for him in a grove of hemlock trees near where he was convalescing (again) in World War 1.  She was enough for him, more than enough.  Out of all of the loneliness while he was at the front in World War 1, those minutes when her hair was still raven and her skin clear gave us the strong, vulnerable, winsome and brave women in the Trilogy.  Be they elven, long or short lived, born to horses or court: his women were royal, gritty, indefatigable, and every bit as brave as any man.  

And Edith was enough as his font of knowing, his muse, and his encourager.  My Jill is unlikely to sing, except when she is unaware of my attention, but she has faced our trials: financial and health, life and death with a courage that she would deny and I cling to in my own hopes.  

So Tolkien and all of the rest of us men have more than enough in the courageous love of one woman committing herself to any of us boys cum men.  

Tolkien also translated his WW1 experiences into gritty, harrowing, believable battles where men make their semingly feckless way across inconceivable mayhem and horror.  What is so astonishing is that after “second lieutenants (his rank) dying at the rate of a dozen a minute” and losing all but one friend among the millions dead in the first round of industrialized warfare — he still wrote that one man (or woman) could make a difference on a battlefield.  

Tolkien’s war privations of cold, lice, and infections as well as the shells packaging so many new ways to die trickled through his pen into men fighting for the existence of men as a species believably both on the battlefields and in the calling of Sam and Frodo with so much weighing down their very souls behind enemy lines.

JRR translatd both his love and his dread believably, beautifully into his works.  Courage is a terribly lonely calling against the backdrop of an entire world insanely trying to extinguish itself.  Love is courgeous work as well.  

I may not translate my courage nor my love anywhere nearly as well in print, but I must, I must translate it well enough so that my sons have a model on which to build something brave, something better than I did.  They must see their mom that way, and learn to see their wives and challenges no less courageously.