Friday, January 18, 2013

Traveling with Tutankhamen

I do a lot of driving in the course of my being an Army Chaplain these days.

Unfortunately, on the Thursday after Christmas I had to drive to Mojave, CA (as in "Mojave Desert") to do the funeral of a very young Soldier who died after an apparent heart attack a few hours after he'd finished a round of chemotherapy to treat the cancer which had been found unexpectedly while surgeons were doing emergency surgery to repair the damage my friend had suffered during a melee at the correctional institution where he'd gotten a job (finally) after returning from our deployment to Kosovo in 2010.

He was 23 years old.

That was about 3.5 hours of driving each way, though it seemed so much longer because of the massive burden of grief it represented for so many people, including me.  I had met SPC Taeza during the train-up for  Kosovo in the summer of 2009, and he'd come to Mass often during our mobilization/deployment.

I was listening to "The Emperors of Rome" (a 36-lecture course), there and back.

Not all that long ago a young Soldier friend of mine asked me to come up and hang out with a bunch of her friends who are trying to stay sober one day at time, so that was about 3.5 hours total driving.

That Soldier's life before the military makes Steven King movies look like Winnie the Pooh.

After a long day of work, and especially with the late hour at which I began my drive home, I was grateful to be listening to "The Life and Music of Brahms" (eight, 45-minute lectures), in part because of my longtime love of his music, and in part because the lecturer, Dr. Robert Greenberg, is a real hoot.

Each time I travel up to Oakland, CA, to celebrate Mass with my Jesuit brothers in the Jesuit Community there, it's about 3 hours each way, iff (that's "if and only if," in mathematics-speak) there's no traffic.  At times it's taken me 5 hours one-way.  I try to get up there once a month, if at all possible.

(Wow, just in writing that, the reality of going overseas again for an extended time -- far away from my Community and my family and my Army buddies and my civilian friends -- just inundated me, occasioning an audible gasp of air.  Weird in its suddenness and intensity....)

Last month, I went up to Oakland both for St. Lucy's Day and for a cameo appearance on Christmas Day; both times I drove up and back on the same day, and both times I was listening to "The Emperors of Rome" (see above).

I do a lot of driving in the course of my being an Army Chaplain these days.

I'm so grateful my friend Dan (physician, musician, gourmet chef, sculptor, painter, photographer -- and one of the most generous and gentle human beings I've ever met) introduced me to the universe of university-level lecture courses offered for sale by The Teaching Company!

When I lived on my own for a couple of years after returning to Stanford following my stint in Cincinnati from 1999-2002, Teaching Company courses really occupied my attention when I was home alone, night after night.  I found they were great listening while I was driving, too.  Since I've been working full-time as a Chaplain in the 28 months since my last deployments ended, I've lost count of how many of those lectures I've listened to while on the road.

Even ten years out from doing laboratory research, and I'm still a complete nerd.

I just finished listening to "Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt" taught by Professor Bob Brier (he's the guy who mummified a human cadaver (filmed by National Geographic) -- in 1994, the first time that had been successfully completed since probably the beginning of the Common Era).  I must admit, I couldn't remember ever hearing of Kings Narmer or Sneferu before, and I had never linked Queen Nefertiti with the "Apostate Pharaoh" Akhenaten.

So much for paying attention for the previous half-century.  Perhaps I'm not such a nerd.  Or perhaps just a bad one.

Dr. Brier presented 12 lectures of 30 minutes each, and I found myself wishing there were at least 30 more when I finished the last lecture this morning on my way to work.

Nope, nerd!  Complete nerd.

I'm grateful beyond words to be able to share with so many of my Soldiers even a small part of their life's journey, even and especially when those sojourns take them (and me) into painful, scary, lonely, and isolated places.

I love my Soldiers, and I love my job.

I'm also filled with gratitude that for more than three decades now I've had friends who go to a lot of Al-Anon meetings sharing with me how much less-needlessly-stressful their lives are when they remember that "messiah" is not part of their job description, when they remember to "let God, and let go," and that grief is not a mental illness, even though it so often and so intensely *feels* like one.

The Great Courses, from The Teaching Company have allowed me to stay awake and alert when I'm driving to -- and especially, from -- emotionally wrenching or otherwise demanding ministry opportunities.

Now I'm listening to "Great Battles of the Ancient World."

(I figure I'd better keep trying to learn something about this "soldiering" thing, so perhaps someday I can get past the impulse to say, "... but I play one on TV!")

If you've a minute, and are of a mind, please send thoughts, prayers, light, good wishes, or whatever is your custom, to/for the family, friends, and military buddies of SPC Jerald Taeza, who died eight days before Christmas, and whose funeral we conducted on 27DEC12. Likewise, if you could remember my other Soldier, whom I've nicknamed "Victoria" because she's no longer -- and never again will be -- a victim, I'd appreciate that, too.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ
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1 comment:

dan-fourrier said...

I've very touched by your shout out,

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