My last blog ended with the comment, “Next time, where the pilgrim’s way is leading and the reason for the blog.” Don’t you just hate being led along? At the time I wrote it, I intended to describe where the story is leading; but I have something else to share before the “announcement.” This blog fills in a few more details at the foundation.
We remember momentous days. We know our birth date from annual celebrations and the anticipation of gifts. We remember our anniversary date if we are married (at least we better remember it!). When an American of a certain age is asked what happened on November 22, 1963, he can tell you where he was, what he was doing and precisely how he learned that President John Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. And now most Americans have the morning of September 11, 2001, etched in their memories.
A date seared in my mind is October 24, 1962. I had been in college for just over a month. I was struggling with my decision to be a thousand miles away from everyone I had known growing up. That October evening was cloudy, cool and foggy in Spokane. I was sitting on the dorm’s fourth floor fire escape landing listening to a portable transistor radio. The news reported that American warships were in position to intercept Soviet Union ships approaching Cuba. The President had just declared something called DEFCON 2, which I understood as being one step from all-out nuclear war.
Ironically, the week before I had read an article by John Hersey about the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima for a Composition 101 writing assignment. Thus on one hand, I wanted to keep my eyes closed so that the flash of the bombs wouldn’t blind me. On the other hand, I was eighteen years-old and would probably end up dying in the war anyway—unless I was already blind. (There is no accounting for the irrationality of fear, especially when we are carefully taught that we must live in terror of the things over which we have no control.) The Soviet ships reversed course and within days the news was on other topics. But I vowed that night that I would never have anything to do with the military or war.
Eight years and three weeks later, as an Army infantry lieutenant, I was riding in a helicopter headed toward a “hot LZ” in Vietnam and feeling certain that I would not survive the rest of the day. I could not integrate any meaning for my life from these “dates” until I had lived another four decades; but what occurs to me now is that crossing over thresholds of this magnitude stirs the soul from its slumber.
What I learned is that when you can’t see the other side of the chasm that opens before you, you can’t rely on your own knowledge and life skills to pass through. And, there’s no point trying to “push the river.” The dark passage takes as long as it takes. I’m glad the Soviet ships turned around in 1962. I’m thrilled every day that I came home from Vietnam 366 days after I arrived there. But I know that I wasn’t in control; and that’s a hard lesson to learn for almost every man I have ever known.
All through the years, even though I say I knew better, I thought I was in control. I would “pray about” what I was supposed to do. Then I would decide and ask God to “baptize my project.” If my plans went well, it was because I was clever, confident and capable. If things did not go well, I told myself it was because of someone else’s lack of cooperation or some outside circumstance.
So what happens when the summons really does come from outside my own mind? What does it feel like when the idea is born in my soul rather than in my imagination? Stay tuned; the answer comes tomorrow (seriously!)