Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Painless Perspective

I've been better, but I've been a heckuva lot worse.

When I was on the instructor staff at the Air Command and Staff College, I served with an Army lieutenant colonel who, as a 19 year old enlisted man, had been taken captive after a Viet Cong ambush and held as a POW by the North Vietnamese. Wisely, the Staff College's commandant made it a point to have this officer speak to the assembled class each year about his experiences at the hands of the communists. At the conclusion of his presentation, he would describe his first day of freedom and his return to home and loved ones, and would sum up with the following statement: "...and I haven't had a bad day since."

I try, sometimes unsuccessfully, to put my everyday troubles, aches, and stresses into the perspective of some of the real hardships I've experienced. Now, I will admit that some will scoff at what I consider "hardships." I didn't grow up in rural Mississippi during The Great Depression (like many in my family). I wasn't in the first wave on the beaches at Iwo. I haven't been persecuted to the point of death for my faith. But, then again, I have a few painful benchmarks of my own against which to measure present difficulties. For example:

The best drink of water I ever had came from a puddle in a jeep track in Tunisia, after I scooped the green scum out of the way.

The warmest I ever felt was the ray of sunlight, after twenty hours of cold and dark, that split the uprights of two mountain peaks in Norway and touched my face.

The best shade I ever experienced was sitting with my back to a very hot M-60 tank in a very hot July California desert.

The best nap I ever took was on my feet, leaned up against a tree, twenty miles into a twenty-five mile forced march.

The second most beautiful thing I have ever seen (Miss Brenda being the first, of course) was a three foot square of muddy high ground after a night in a Panama mangrove swamp.
The sweetest sound I ever heard was Miss Brenda's voice on a cassette tape she mailed me while I was at sea in the Western Pacific.
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