Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No matter how far down the scale -- part II

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about coming to recognize that my experience, strength, and hope -- when shared with other people recovering from addictions -- could benefit them, while helping me to remain clean and sober (and not use automatic weapons against unsuspecting family members). "No matter how far down the scale we have gone" even includes high-bottom, more or less high-functioning alcoholics, like myself. Go figure.

I suppose that's why I've been able to have a rich and rewarding retreat-giving ministry to folks recovering from addictions for the past 18 years now...

But then I came into the Army, about as foreign a cultural experience as I've ever had (and I've spent a number of weeks in Thailand and Vietnam, several years running). Just as I knew that there was little chance I'd fit in before I set foot in Thailand the first time, I was certain I'd feel like a third wheel in the Army.

I've never had delusions of being Rambo. Delusions, yes, I'm told. But of being Rambo? No.

Much to my surprise, I've found that my experience, strength, and hope -- not having anything directly to do with addictions, but none the less shared with others -- can benefit my sisters and brothers in uniform over here Down Range.

Now *that's* something.

Those of you who know me will certainly agree with the notion that I'm probably the last person on the face of the earth who'd have been voted "likely to join the Army at age 50 with no prior service." There are lots and lots of reasons for that, not least of which is my deep and negative visceral reaction to automatic (and other) weapons. Especially when they're pointed at *me*.

I won't mention what CDT Saffar Arjmandi (RANGER and RAKKASAN) said to me when I told him I was in the process of seeing whether I could get a Commission in the United States Army. (Those of you who knew him already know what he said about me, and he was right!)

But here I am, anyway.

A while ago, a Soldier from my "parish" contacted me to ask me to come speak with him. Because of circumstances beyond the control of my colleagues, we're down to one vehicle for the six of us, and this is making my getting over to my "parish" very difficult.

The Soldier had to wait five days, until my 'day off' before I could get a vehicle to get over to him.

(It's a constant struggle now just to take care of my Catholic Soldiers on post -- without even going outside the wire. (Don't get me going about *that*!))

As he poured out his soul to me, after we finally were able to get together, I realized he was experiencing many of the same feelings I'd endured during a particularly difficult time in my life, when I felt betrayed by people I'd thought I could trust. Shame, fear, anger, confusion, sadness, loneliness, isolation -- all occasioned by the incident in my life -- mirrored the experience of my parishioner.

After he unburdened himself of what he was carrying emotionally and spiritually, I shared with him what I'd gone through. It's not something I often speak of, which is of itself and indication of the pain still associated with the experience, years later.

An amazing thing happened.

This career Soldier, who's been in uniform a LOT longer than I have, relaxed visibly, stood taller, and began to smile. His whole physical presence changed noticeably.

"Wow. I have been feeling so oppressed by this situation, I knew I couldn't tell anyone about it. But it was getting so heavy, I began to ask God to send me someone I could trust with this. I heard you at Mass, and decided to risk speaking with you. I see now that God has answered my prayer."

He and I spoke again recently -- again after a struggle to get together because of the vehicle situation -- and he said, "I've really come to peace with the situation, though it's far from being resolved. I'm not sure why I'm , but I think talking with you has been a big part of it."

Who knew?

My friend Carol, who's an Episcopal priest (and the best preacher I've ever heard), says that Jesus came so that none of us ever has to suffer and die either first or alone. There's something amazingly comforting, in the midst of an awful situation, in knowing that we're not alone, that our experience is not unique.

1 Who has believed what we have heard?

And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,

and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by others;

a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;

and as one from whom others hide their faces

he was despised, and we held him of no account.

4 Surely he has borne our infirmities

and carried our diseases;

yet we accounted him stricken,

struck down by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,

crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the punishment that made us whole,

and by his bruises we are healed.

(NRSV: Is 53:1-5)

My parishioner, much more a Soldier than I could ever hope to be, none the less found identification with and comfort from my experience, as different as the two of us are in so many ways, and with next to no military know-how on my part. Incredible.

Friends who go to many AA and Al-Anon meetings for years have been trying to show me that my experience in recovery can bless others, and they're finally succeeding in that project. What I'd never have truely believed possible in the military realm is that my experience, strength, and hope in the civilian realm could benefit my comrades in uniform.

God has a weird sense of humor, to be sure.

Blessings and peace to one and all on this Fifth Day of Christmas,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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