Sunday, December 14, 2008

Many thanks, OPERATION MOM!


A special shout-out to all of the wonderful people at OPERATION MOM in California, and to two of them in particular.

I met Jim and Beverly within a month of joining the Guard. I had just purchased the Class A (green) uniform, and the night I met them was the first time I'd worn it in public. (MAJ P, whom I also met for the first time that night, had to perform some on-the-spot corrections in terms of how I looked. He, of course, has a chest full of ribbons and other devices, while my uniform was/is devoid of all that.)

It was an evening in late January, and fairly cool-ish for being California. MAJ P and I, having reconnoitered at a Starbucks neither of us had ever been to before, showed up at Jim and Beverly's home, unannounced. I was inwardly terrified, and was saying the Serenity Prayer over and over and over to myself. (My friends who go to AA and Al-Anon meetings have recommended this to me for years, and I've even found myself recommending it to others. Amazing how that happens....)

Jim came to the door of their lovely home on a quiet street in a part of the Bay Area I'd passed by before, but never really visited. He showed us in to the living room, where Beverly was seated on a chair across the room from where I sat down, next to Jim on my right. MAJ P sat directly across from me, and though the room was comfy and intimate, he seemed almost a world away.

Just after MAJ P started speaking, Jim reached over and grabbed my right hand. He began to squeeze it, and didn't let go for what seemed an eternity to me.

"The Secretary of the Army regrets to inform you," began MAJ P. Jim and Beverly's son, SPC Michael, had been killed in action that morning in Iraq. I had had no training in the Army way of doing anything like this, and yet there I was. Wearing the dress uniform of the United States Army, I was present as these good people were informed that their beloved younger son had died while on patrol with his buddies, half-way around the world.

I was saying the Serenity Prayer like mad to myself as my hand developed gangrene, I was sure. Jim was holding on for dear life and did not let go for a long, long time.

And then, as my friend Annie L has written, "a little red wagon miracle" occurred. The situation did not change. There was no flash of celestial light and blaring of heavenly trumpets, but a miracle none the less took place in that room.

"...And if I don't drink in the next three weeks, I'll have 17 years clean and sober," Jim said. Jim had been talking about his own experiences in the Army during Vietnam, and about how proud of Michael he and Beverly were. And he mentioned that he'd gotten through a lot since getting sober, so he figured he'd be able to get through even this, too.

The very next day I would celebrate 10000 days in a row of being clean and sober. (My friends who go to AA meetings say that sobriety is a day-at-a-time thing....)

When I mentioned this to Jim and Beverly, they both visibly relaxed a little. Something in that room changed. All of a sudden there was a bond there that transcended that moment and its horror. We actually laughed at how weird God's sense of humor is.

Who'd have imagined that the Chaplain who would show up at their home would be a Chaplain who shared that experience and spirituality and vocabulary with them (all the more humorous, given that they're Baptists and I'm not)?

It was, indeed, "a little red wagon miracle."

Over the next weeks, as we buried Michael far from home, and then had a memorial service in the church where his family has worshipped for generations, Jim and Beverly and MAJ P and I became friends. I suspect that may not always be the case with Guard personnel who perform casualty notifications for Active Duty personnel.

I was able to be there with Jim and Beverly as Jim celebrated his sober birthday in February. No "little red wagon miracle" that! That was an honest-to-God, God-is-showing-off-again walking-on-water miracle, as sober birthdays usually are.

Jim and Beverly had been active in OPERATION MOM for some time before I met them in January 2007. OPERATION MOM sends wonderful care packages to deployed military personnel, and Jim and Beverly invited me to one of their meetings shortly after I met them. Those good folks get together and make a party out of planning, shopping for, packing, and sending those boxes.

I received a boat-load of them a short time ago, and they created a huge sensation among the Soldiers who received them. It was heartwarming to watch as eyes got big as the box was opened: a velour blanket: 'Ooohh!'; a thumb drive: 'Wow!'; a shrink-wrapped DVD blockbuster movie: 'I've wanted to see this!'; white socks: 'Mine have holes in them -- I can *really* use these!' -- and those were just *my* reactions (yes, I kept a box for myself).

Many, many thanks to OPERATION MOM for taking the time to plan and execute this mission.

Special thanks to Jim for his courageous and honorable service in the Army during Vietnam, and to Michael and all those who have served honorably and well during the present conflicts.

Blessings and peace to one and all,


Fr. Tim, SJ


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2 comments:

cptdrfrtim said...

I have deleted an anonymous comment because it contained scurrilous and possibly libelous statements about a friend of mine, by name. People are welcome to talk trash about me in their comments, but not about my friends -- whom I never name by their full names here.

Never fear, though, the comment deleted here will reappear as its own post, soon!

Jim Balsley said...

Yes, Capt. Curmudgeon is a very special dear friend of mine. I am the Jim that he and Maj. P came to visit that dark night in on Jan. 28 2007 to tell my wife and I that our son, Mikey was dead. As I told him that night and now I will tell the world, I'm an alcoholic with almost 19 years of Sobriety. The point is, I truly believe that God sent Tim to me that night to tell me about Mikey. Sorry Tim, one little correction. I'm a Roman Catholic and I paid my dues in Parocial Schools. As I explained to Tim, it is more than a coincidence that Tim came to my home. For one, I have the highest respect for the Jesuits and Tim is also a dear friend of Bill W. For him to come to me with the news of Mikey, tells me that God has a sense of humor. I mean, God had every avenue covered. God was not fooling around. Oh, by the way, Tim. You can use my full name. I'm very open about my Alcoholism. Because, some day some one will have a visit from the Military with the same information that I received and I want to be there for support. After all, were you not there for me ?

 
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