When a soldier dies.

When a soldier is killed, what has occurred?

Does it matter who you are, where you are, or what you are doing?

Was it better to be a dead soldier lying face down in the dirt at Breed’s Hill or Gettysburg, than leaning against a wall or a post in Khost or Baghdad?

Does it matter if the soldier understands and believes in the mission, or is just doing as trained?

Does it matter if the soldier is 18 or 47?  Had a lot to lose, or everything to gain?  Married, single or divorced?  A loving father or an absent one?  A good son, or bitter?

Does it matter if the soldier wore his uniform properly and with pride every day?  What if he was messy sometimes, or had a few unpleasant habits?

Does it matter whether the soldier had killed any of the enemy?

Does it matter if you make the news?  If presidential candidates applaud your sacrifice, and use you for political leverage?

Does it matter if you had been captured, and died as a resisting prisoner?

Does it matter if your brothers and sisters in arms weep at your memorial service?

When a solider is killed, what has occurred?

I have a blurry answer that guides me through Memorial Day, and every occasion for thinking of a fallen member of the Armed Forces.  I don’t think the questions above matter very much, at least at the fundamental level.  But I’m often worried that if we abstract away from all of the details, then whatever is left at this fundamental level isn’t worth very much.  So it matters how you understand the fundamental level, whether you respect the fallen out of respect for the dead or our vague duty of respecting fallen soldiers, or something else, you might have a very rich appreciation for killed military members or a very flimsy one.

My take is if the nation is good, then it is good to be in the military and to die in service to the nation.  Serving in the military is profoundly instrumental.  You have no control over the mission — the overarching mission.  Being in Iraq or not being in Iraq is not your choice if you are doing your duty.  So how can these two things be brought together — that it is good to die in service to the nation, but that your death occurs waging a war that may be good or bad?

I think the answer is in your faith in the inherent goodness of the nation, or at least the potential goodness that is still worth working at.  In this sense, you might be the instrument of your nation’s mistake, but your nation is going to make that mistake with or without you.  That fact that you are willing to be the one, putting your one life up, in order to carry out that will, if only so the nation can learn from its mistaken judgment in the witnessing of the results of your (its) efforts, then to me you have done something that brings chills, is easily wept over with tears of joy and love to anyone that realizes it.  You have sacrificed your all so that your nation might have body, unity, and purpose, that it might learn, and that it might one way or another in the end, God willing, persevere.  And when you can do that with the American flag on your uniform, fighting for American values, making America possible by giving her her will and capacity to be secure, you have brought your life to rest on the very strongest of foundations in this persistently dark and inscrutable world.  And if you were right, and your nation is good, then your nation will remember you, and will benefit from your sacrifice, one way or another.

God bless America, God bless our military dead, and God have mercy on all of our souls.

Protecting your Heart from Itself: A Response to “Let’s Talk?”

There is a real tension between talking and doing.  In the present election cycle, establishment politicians are the talkers, and who are the doers?  Well, Trump and his supporters, who are going to “make America great again.”  But notice that just as politicians have their reputation for not getting anything done, Trump and his supporters have their reputation for being unthoughtful and inarticulate.  You have to be one or the other, you can’t be a talker and a doer.

The Bible says that there is a time to gather stones and a time to scatter them.  There is obviously a time for talking and a time for doing.  Talking implies delayed action.  When action is needed, somebody needs to declare that the conversation is over.  On 9/11, Todd Beamer said to his fellow passengers “Let’s roll” before taking on the highjackers of Flight 93.

When people are in danger or pain, it is hard to argue that the conversation should continue.  Pain demands a response.  Pain demands action.  If my arms are full of groceries, and I suddenly feel an ant biting my ankle, then I’m dropping those groceries, milk and eggs be damned.  If I’m addicted to drugs, and my addiction generates extreme pain when I’m off the drug, then I’m taking the drug.

Conversation is an activity of the mind, while doing is an expression of the heart.  It is the heart that needs to be convinced by the mind, not vice-versa.  The default mode is to do, and to do immediately.  If the mind can make a compelling case that action should be put off, that more thought needs to be had, then patience can be achieved — for a while.  But if the heart has to wait too long it loses faith in the ability of the mind to deliver on its promises, and the heart will go it alone.  It can be tragic when this happens.

The saying is true that love is blind.  The heart might know what it wants, but it has no idea how to get it or to keep it.  The heart wants love and affection, but without the mind the pursuit of love and affection from another can become creepy.  It’s a turn off for the beloved.  The mind says wait, the heart says go.  The mind says settle down, the heart says reach out, demand, force.  The heart reveals its own desperation, its weakness, its vulnerability, its willingness to give up everything.  The heart is a self-destructive beggar.  The mind of the beloved asks: why give this beggar my heart?  What here is worth wanting?  The world is indifferent, it says, “that’s not how this works.”

All lasting love is led and informed by the mind.  This is why communication is so important in marriage as it is in politics.  In marriage, our hearts want love, but our mind says first be worthy of love, be virtuous.  This is frustrating, and tests the trust between the heart and the mind.  In politics, our hearts want happiness, but our mind says first have a successful marriage, have a great job, have dignity, have respect.  This is frustrating, and generates resentment after resentment as marriages fail, jobs are lost, and with them, dignity and self-respect.  It gives charge to the self-destructive beggars within us, with frustration giving way to recklessness, failure, and a nod towards death.

We need to protect our hearts and ourselves by being patient and open-minded.  There are ways–some clever, others straightforward–to satisfy our hearts and sooth our frustrations, but we can never make the best use of them if we close ourselves off from the wisdom of the world.  This is why talking matters, in marriage and in politics.  It takes us from quick and easy assumptions to a winning strategy that can go the distance.  Isn’t that what we all want?

GUEST BLOG: By Margarita Ramirez, “Let’s Talk? Why Some Traditional Relationship Habits Still Make Sense”

Communication. The art of expressing to others your ideas and thoughts. It seems so easy, yet I bet there are hundreds of books written about improving communication skills, good communication practices. What appears as something completely straight forward as talking, is for me a struggled. Sometimes I feel it is an ability I plainly missed. Maybe it is just a “me” thing, as I do not have blue eyes I do not know how to communicate, yet I believe it is also a way in which we women are programmed in traditional families.

Equality-feminism

I have the hardest time communicating about issues when there is a tension between what the traditional role should be and the modern. i.e.: house keeping, ways to handle our daughter, weekend plans… As a consequence, I have a hard time asking for favors that involve these tasks. Traditionally, it is either “his” role and I am not supposed to get involved, or it is mine. When it is “my” role, I should have all the jurisdiction and say about it. So being brought up in a traditional family, I find it unnatural to communicate. I feel anxious when something arises that I will have to bring up. I would rather not have any new thoughts or information so I do not have to say anything, especially when I feel the issue might have the potential to create a traditional vs. modern clash.

 
I personally find the structure of the traditional family in this sense very handy. Here is why. In a traditional family everyone has their roles. This means that all the members of the household know what are their duties, what to do and when. As a consequence, each member does their own thing, and the house runs smoothly (for the purpose of this exercise lets suppose that all the members do their part without shirking). It’s like a soccer team, the “James” knows that he has to make a goal when he sees the opportunity. When he has the ball, he does not slow down and stop to talk about it with his team members. So why bother talking? Shouldn’t little cues here and there be enough?

 
As I see it, the need to communicate in a modern family structure is too cumbersome. If roles are not clear, of course there is need to speak in order to communicate. But, wouldn’t it make more sense to talk beforehand, set the roles, and from then one save time and potential problems? And this is only with regards to household things. Yet, I also find problematic the need to share every experience or feeling. Sometimes I just want to hold the feelings to myself. I follow that sharing one’s mind creates intimacy. Yet maybe in sharing one’s mind you end up opening up a pandora’s box of contents that now are out on the loose. That is very scary to me. Again, maybe it is just a “me” thing, maybe not. I can remember my mom saying “there is no need to tell your husband all your personal things or all your family matters.” I do not exactly know what is the rationale behind it. I will ask her.

 
Side note: One of the things that surprised me the most from my previous guest post was to see that those that identified with my thoughts were mostly Latin women that had lived outside of Latin America. In addition, while I have such a hard time with the stiffness of the status quo in my mind, and the way I am programmed, there are other women for which the tension between traditional and modern family roles is non-existent. I find this fascinating!