This is for the troops and those who love them.
My last letter, on Veterans Day, paid tribute to those who fought the brutal foreign battles of my parents’ generation. Since then, it occurred to me that folks in uniform don’t always go into battle, but are equally engaged in the outcomes as they work tirelessly to maintain aircraft, procure reliable weaponry and support every possible human need, including keeping everyone fed. They, too, are worthy of our honor and our appreciation.
We owe them everything, simply because our combat veterans did, and because they still do. And then there are the chaplains - in a class by themselves and unique in the weight they bear on behalf all who look to them for reconciliation, peace and comfort. If soldiers are God’s special children, chaplains are His spiritual warriors; His chosen angels. Theirs is the highest calling, and they are always on call - and who comforts them?
It also occurs to me that the sacred ground upon which our soldiers have trod is, for the most part, void of conflict in the 21st century. Even the once gut-wrenching landscape of Vietnam is now a nation at peace with itself and with the world. At the same time, we are newly convinced that an all-volunteer fighting force is a more powerful deterrent, if only because those in uniform choose to dress that way. The most painful exception perhaps is Korea - a divided country whose war is still officially under way, with more than 8,000 American MIA’s still on the books, somewhere. But then, it was not an officially declared war - a lesson to be learned and remembered as we resolve to openly proclaim our intentions instead of masking them behind “police actions.”
No one is sure what kind of Korean heritage and history will unfold during the remainder of this century, but I certainly hope that folks don’t easily forget its ongoing trials and tribulations - and the sufferings borne by families who, like Germans during the Cold War, live apart from each other on either side of an arbitrary man-made divide. I ask for your prayers for Korea, and for the souls of the tens of thousands of Americans who died (some froze to death) during that mysterious post-World War II conflict, which has since evolved into an official “time out.”
Shifting reflection into the present challenges, I am reminded that we have evolved into a new kind of warfare, in which the enemy is living and working among us, present on our own soil, yet undetected in the traditional ways of identification and affiliation. The battle lines are invisible and transparent, and difficult to discern, measure or forecast. The enemy is bound by ideology, not by a patriotism born of nationalism.
The global village has expanded to include very real battlefields, with virtual boundaries defined by thought. I sometimes wonder what would happen if they, even for a nanosecond, absorbed a universal understanding of a love-infused moral tradition in which, regardless of personal religious thought or tradition, a version of the Golden Rule lives and prevails as a guidepost of action and thought.
There would be no need to fight.
This is my Christmas wish for them and for us - not to convert or convince, but to inspire everyone to see another possibility and reflect on what it might mean. For this, after all, is the essence of our courage - that quietly overt declaration of a nation’s unique history and belief in a higher calling, a God in which we openly and freely trust, and a voluntary assembly of like-minded yet powerfully individual souls, unique as snowflakes. Some say that raindrops are angels’ tears that cleanse the planet and remove the dust, as if by magic.
This winter season, let us look upon snowflakes in a similar way - as sacred reminders of the countless numbers who came before us, willingly sacrificing an earthly existence, and returning en masse during this time of celebration of hope and joy and lights, to greet us from above by forming an exquisite blanket of beauty for us to enjoy, to play in, to admire, and to transform the battlefields on which they once marched, prayed, fought, and died. And if you soften your gaze, you might just think you’re looking at the pristine marble found only in a military cemetery - bringing God’s peace to Earth.
So the next time there’s a winter storm of white, turn your face to the sky, and allow them to bless you and yours, and the land we love and share.
c Linda Joan Strating is a writer living in Northern Virginia.