|John Gardam as a Peace keeper in Egypt|
My elder brother is a retired army officer and on a recent visit he was telling me a story from his past. He was second in command of the regiment when his commanding officer was killed in a climbing accident. The padre was away, someone had to tell the wife and children. He said to his wife, we must do this! He relates the harrowing story of telling the widow, then the three youngest children and finally the eldest son. He tells his story clearly but compassionately. All these years later he is still focused on how dreadful this was for that family with no thought as to how being the bearer of shocking news and carrying the responsibility for helping that family pass through a difficult time might have affected him and his wife. Yet this is a story that still rings clearly for him.
We call our military the 'armed services' and usually think little about what is entailed. That someone may enlist into a 'job' with the recognition that death, disability or life long personal repercussions are the expected outcome seems bizarre. What my brother has demonstrated in his story is the tremendous ethical balance that must be created to support that armed service. 'The Regiment' is more than the sum of its parts, it is a thing of the imagination as well. My brother performed that difficult personal 'service' in his unquestioned responsibility for doing the whole job. You or I might turn aside, call a professional, somehow squirm out of a requirement to put ourselves into such a difficult responsibility. When we do that we also cut ourselves off from the growth that we gain from performing a duty that is so up close and personal. Service to others, it turns out, is the sure road to fulfilling our own lives as well.
We give little thought to the regimental padre who would normally perform this function, the medical profession, the police who have to be on the front line of this difficult duty in civilian life, or for the priests of all religions and denominations whose real duty of compassion is often hidden from view by their public performance. What an emotional toll it must take! And yet what a wonderful opportunity it is to be so close to the important life-changing moments of human lives. When we serve, when we reach out a hand, provide words and deeds that not only give comfort but point towards a way forward for those in distress, we are building a better community, a better world and a better personal self as well.