Monday, May 27, 2013

Original Sin: Well, Could be Worse

When talking about the idea of Original Sin, which is the idea that there is at the beginning of human history a sin which taints all subsequent generations, sometimes Christians are accused of an existential pessimism. This appears to be a doom-and-gloom outlook on life which is popularly supposed to rob us of all our joy. Far be it from me to deny that such may often be the case! However, in my opinion this is often merely a misunderstanding of an honest, but fundamentally cheerful outlook on life.

Christians, and indeed, all people who watch the news, are distinctly aware that the world is often an unpleasant place, rude, hateful, petty and sometimes just plain senseless. Where most people act shocked and ill-used, as if this were somehow a personal insult to them and often end up concluding that the whole thing was a bad business from the start, the Christian has the doctrine of Original Sin to fall back on. Something unexpected happened in an otherwise good and useful system, some person did something that made no sense, and it threw things out of whack. We feel the effects of it today, much the way a baby born to a crack addict will feel the effects of crack addiction. We even add to the effects. So much we admit. Life is often tragic, absurd and ugly, but surely the fact that we can recognize that argues a deeper awareness of joy, reasonableness, and beauty? And does not the awareness of that fundamental defect somewhat take the sting out of it?

Rather like two guests, both staying at the same out of the way, Mom & Pop Inn in Nepal may have totally different experiences because they have totally different outlooks. One is expecting a five star hotel, and is frustrated by rolling brownouts, unreliable internet, spiders in the bathroom, no menu to choose from, and 58 steps to climb just to get to breakfast. The other realizes that this is what it is, an out of the way, Mom & Pop Inn in Nepal. Given that realization it is not nearly so bad as it might be. We have power quite often, the internet sometimes works, the spiders don't bite (or at least haven't yet), the food is healthy, delicious and plentiful, and at least a little exercise is guaranteed every day, just getting to breakfast!

In the same way, when you finally accept the fact that the world has that existential flaw which we call "Original Sin," you are free to recognize that these flaws are evils in a good system. The world itself is not evil. Certainly as a paradise our world falls quite a bit short, but for most of us it certainly is not a hell either. As worlds go it might be much worse. All in all, I would say it is not that bad. Good still happens, surprising and yet refreshing when it does, indicating that redemption, though difficult and incomplete just yet, is perhaps possible. That, to me, sounds suspiciously like hope.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

God: The Ultimate One-Upper

A while back my younger brother, in a fit of introspection, asked me, "Do you think I am a one-upper?"

I had to admit, he is a bit of a one-upper. All of us brothers are one-uppers, to some extent. That is, we inherit our Dad's love for anecdotes, some more and some less. Any story you can tell us triggers a story in reply. We don't set out to one up, but sometimes the stories are just one-uppish type stories.  When you have been in the Navy for six years and cruised all around Europe and the Mediterranean the subject matter you have to draw from is pretty rich.

However, I really believe that as much as we Kraeger males like to one-up people around us, we ain't got nothin' on God. He is the ultimate one-upper. He even says so: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38. No matter what you give to Him or to anyone else, He is going to one up you.

This truth was brought home to me today by my experience in going to Mass. I wrote recently about the church I found near Kathmandu, and what the experience of attending Mass there meant to me. Well it has been a couple of weeks since I had a Sunday off but this weekend I had three days off. The problem was that I am not completely independent here. I am a member of a team, and I cannot just go where I want or do what I want. Half the group wanted to go do things elsewhere, so that took up half of the guys and one of the vehicles and drivers. Even on days off we still have to have guys on duty and that takes up people there. The rest of the guys needed to get out and do some shopping, which I did not need because I had been working in the city for some days. So when we planned out our weekend I was left on duty. Ordinarily I don't mind that, but it was a Sunday off and I hadn't been to Mass in weeks. I was aching for the sacraments. 

So I had to ask. I had to ask one of the other guys if he would switch days with me so that I could go to Mass, even though I had been in the city for several days earlier. I had to ask the guys who were going down to leave very early in the morning on a day off so I could make it in time. 

I don't like asking people for things. I especially don't like asking for help from the other guys. They do not believe, therefore they do not understand why this is important to me. I don't want to be seen to be using my religion for my own personal gain. I don't want to give them reason to think that faith and being a good soldier are incompatible. 

But then I have to ask myself, what is really important? What is most important? If I believe what the Church teaches, that confession really does forgive sins, and that the Eucharist is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, and if I really do have an opportunity to receive these gifts, how can I justify not exhausting every resource to be able to receive them?

One of the things that made me more able to accept the embarrassment was the certain knowledge of God's one-upsmanship. Sometimes He arranges things so that following Him is possible, but inconvenient, simply so that I will have to brave the inconvenience. It makes me value the following more. (This is a pattern in our relationship. You get used to it after awhile.) However, my experience has been that when He requires an unusual effort on my part, He comes back with an unusual result. Or maybe another way of looking at it is that when He has some unusual gift in store the devil goes to unusual length to discourage me. Maybe a little of both. Who knows? Certainly not me. I just know that I have not yet put on ounce of effort into my faith that has not been rewarded a hundred times over. 

So I swallowed that lump of pride and asked. It made some waves, sure enough, but the guys are more or less used to me going to unusual lengths to go to Mass. Their plans were more flexible and could be done another day easily enough, and the switch was made. 

So we left bright and early this morning, careening at a breakneck pace along the narrow winding road to Kathmandu, but the hiccups were not over yet. The driver did not know exactly where the church was, even though I had the address written down on a sheet of paper, and we were cutting it close on time. One of the other guys in the car had plans that also had a time hack, and he didn't want to waste time searching around for a church, so I had them drop me off at the bridge to Lolitpur, intending to let them go on their way while I found a cab. I would just show the cabby the piece of paper with the address... Oh Crap. I forgot the slip of paper. 

To late to go back for it now. I remembered two words of the address, and armed with those I hailed the nearest cab and jumped in, saying a prayer that he would know what I was talking about. He got the city and section of town (those were the two words I remembered) but didn't know which street (that was the word I forgot). He knew of several churches, and with time rapidly ticking away the two of us roamed around Lolitpur, asking other taxi drivers and random strangers if they knew of any churches in the area. As we were directed to them we drove there and I gave them a yeah or nay. I'm sure he was wondering what could possibly be so different between one western church and another, but he was a good sport about it. Finally, with a minute to spare (literally) I recognized a street and shouted "There!" pointing down the alley. He slammed on the brakes, and then backed up and did a fifteen point turn in the middle of the street. I am sure that earned us some bad thoughts from the other drivers.

But I made it, and walked in in the middle of the opening hymn. 

The church was full, and the altar was a sea of red vestments. Of course, it is Pentecost sunday. I knew that from reading Morning prayer for the last ten days. I have been counting down to Pentecost for weeks. 

What I didn't know was the Our Lady of the Assumption chose Pentecost Sunday to confirm seven of their young people and the Mass was being celebrated by he Apostolic Nuncio to Nepal and India, His Excellency Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, and concelebrated by His Excellency the Bishop of Nepal, Msgr A Sharma SJ. There were at least a dozen other priests on the altar, some of the most reverent altar servers I have seen since I was last at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Verona, NY, incense, full choir, the whole smells and bells experience. To top it off, Archbishop Pennacchio bestowed upon us the Apostolic Blessing of Pope Francis, and Archbishop Sharma had received a similar privelege from Blessed Pope John Paul II, and even had a relic of Blessed JPII for us to venerate. And just as the last little bit of showmanship, I went to confession after Mass and the priest was a charismatic priest with an epic Indian/British accent who prayed fire and brimstone over me for about five minutes. They practically blessed the hell out of me today!

When I told my girlfriend about it later over the phone her comment was, "Whoah! I wonder what crazy thing He is prepping you for." Which I agree, I do have a tendency to get suspicious when extraordinary graces are bestowed, because I have to wonder what is coming next. 

But what the heck! Why worry? God's love is not a come and go thing. This is not an example of Him loving me any more than He ever does, and if some trial comes up soon it will not be an example of Him loving me less. This was an example of showmanship, if it is not irreverent to use that word. A showing. A manifestation. Just like a birthday or Christmas or "just because" present is an example of showmanship, a special expression of a love that transcends that gift, so this was just a special gift.

And I think He likes showing off for His kids. What Father doesn't?

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Adventure Worth Having

In my last two posts I talked about home, and what home is to me. Home to me is people, or a Catholic Church (which is really a Person). I do not miss places. I enjoy them when I am there. No matter how long I am there I find them beautiful, and no matter how long I am in different places I don’t miss the old ones. Perhaps because there is so much to discover in any one place, and perhaps because I try to enjoy everything I am presented with, I am always too busy enjoying my current place to miss my old place.

One interesting result of this way of thinking of place is that it radically (in the old sense radix: root; from the roots up) shapes my idea of adventure. To most people going somewhere they have never been before is an adventure, in and of itself. The very idea of seeing something new is exciting to most people, or terrifying, or inconvenient as the case may be, but certainly the novelty of a place they have never seen before is one of the key features of that place. 

For me this is less true. It is true that I enjoy seeing new things, but no more than I enjoy enjoying old things. For this reason I consider it a very good thing that my job has forced me to go to new places and see new things. It has greatly broadened my mind and sharpened my mental and emotional appetite for beauty. It is a good thing, not because I would dislike the idea of traveling if I were not forced to, but because without that impetus I would probably be too busy just being wherever I was or doing whatever I was doing.
Simply going somewhere is not an adventure for me.

Neither is adrenaline. I have experienced my share of adrenaline. I have hunted IED’s with a knife and handheld mine detector. I have witnessed IED’s blowing up a mere vehicle length from me. I have been shot at with rockets. I have jumped out of airplanes. I have practiced martial arts and fought in full contact tournaments. I have blown things up, fired thousands of rounds until simply pulling the trigger was a chore, and broken into rooms with live bullets flying feet from my head. I have cross country skied into back country mountain passes and downhilled across miles of untouched powder (rather clumsily, I might add; my skiing skills are not the best. I have navigated across miles of wilderness alone with a map and compass. some of these things were fun in their own way, or terrifying, or merely a dreadful bother, depending on my mood at the time. All were thrills, at least at first.

None of them have satisfied me. Not one of them provides a strong enough reason to keep doing what I am doing, which is part of why I am getting out of the Army at the end of this enlistment. Thrill is not a reason for existing. An adventure ought to have a purpose, and only one purpose have I found that still seems meaningful to me. It is not “America’s Interests.”

It is not that I consider all of those “adventures” worthless. Each one served its purpose, although it was not necessarily the purpose I or anyone else thought it served at the time. I have grown from each one. I have succeeded where I expected only failure, and excelled when by all rights I should have flunked. I have also failed when I expected only success. I have met my limitations and surpassed them, met them again and been utterly crushed and unable to go one step further. I have cried out for help in desperation and been answered out of marvelous darkness. These are good experiences, I think, for any man to have in his younger days.

If nothing else they have given me this perspective, that I have tried them and found them wanting. At twenty-eight years old I can say confidently that love is the only adventure worthwhile. Love of God, first and foremost, and then love of everyone that He loves. Love is the only purpose that still seems meaningful to me.

But lo and behold! Love is meaningful, and for its sake and by its light every other thing is meaningful. Everything is an adventure. Everything is worthwhile and beautiful when done with that love.

That seems to me to be something worth learning.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Beauty Near and Far

In my last blog I explained how home has never been a place to me. Rather, it is the people who make home. For this reason I have a lot of “homes.” When I visit the farm in upstate NY, I am home. When I visit my cousins in VA and make goofy home martial arts videos, I am home. When I get to see my god-children I am home. When I wake up at 7:30 in the morning for two or three hours of leisurely conversation over a pot of freshly brewed tea with my aunt and uncle, I am home. When I sit in Panera bread in the Tacoma Mall, surrounded by other young Catholics, studying the readings of the day, then I am home. I am home when I smoke a pipe or drink a beer with my brother. I am home making pizza for my friends, or going for a hike up Mt. Si with them.

There even more places that are home to me, in a deeper sense than I have ever known, so deep that I cannot blog about them. But home is always the people I am with, never the place I am.

Some people have a hard time understanding this. Most people, I think, have a certain amount of nostalgia for place, whether the place they grew up, or the place they spent much of their time. Some people truly do love, say, the hills of upstate NY with a fondness bordering on passion. For myself, it is not at all that I am indifferent to place. Instead, I love places. I love them all. I love the crispness of upstate NY,

the lazy warmth of the deep south,

 the glory of entire landscapes changing colors in the fall, and the warm smell of sun-baked pinestraw on the floor of forests that will never change their hue.

 I love the ice and snow of a New York winter,

and the sun, sand and warm water of a beach in Thailand.

I love the fertile, windswept high prairie of Eastern Washington and of Colorado and Wyoming,

and also the cozy grey drizzle and precious clear days in the Northwest.

I loved the tangled fertility of the Tigris river valley, and the blinding, unlivable sands stretching away from it as far as the eye could see. I loved the wild, harsh austerity of the Hindu Kush,
and the glory of the Himalayas, when the sun breaks over the barely visible peak of Mt. Everest.

 Beauty large:

And beauty small:

I love them all. When I am there I soak them up and glory in them, but I do not miss them when they are gone.

I miss people. One of the consequences of this attitude towards place is that it radically alters my concept of adventure, and what adventure truly is (that is subject for another blog). No matter where I go I see beauty to be shared and I find stories to be told, but what on earth is the point if there is no one to share them with or tell them to?

That is the point of this blog. To share beauty and tell stories. Not just the strange beauty that it has been my great good fortune to see, but the familiar beauty that we, strangely, do not see. All of it comes fresh and whole from the heart of God.

*All photos in this post were taken by the author.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

There I Am Home


Home has never been a place for me. I have been so many places in my life. I have a special nostalgia for the farming country of Upstate NY, especially in the Summer, and the Fall. And the Spring. And the Winter. That's because I grew up there, and I guess in a certain sense that makes it "home." But I use the word "home" about a lot of other places as well. Home has been apartments, houses, other people's houses. The barracks have never been home. America is home sometimes. Sometimes Washington State is home, sometimes New York State is home. Sometimes the whole east coast is home. Depending on the context, home can be a very ambiguous word in my lexicon.
 The reason for this disparity is, as I said above, I have never associated the  concept of "Home" with a place. Home is more of a concept, and even in some sense a feeling. As much as my inner wordsmith dislikes using such a word for something so nebulous as a feeling there really is nothing else for it. When I am home I feel relaxed. I feel like I belong. I feel whole and at rest. Perhaps it is a good thing that I can feel at home in so many places, but it is never the place that is the home.

Or perhaps Home is not a feeling, so much as the things that I have those feelings about. Home is always ever two things, in my life. When I speak of Home (with a deliberately capital 'H') I am speaking of either people that I love, or a Catholic Church. Having traveled quite a bit and lived in many different places, I have made many friends on both ends of the country. Sometimes it feels to me like I can never truly go home, because there is no place that unites all of those people. My Tacoma/Puyallup family would be missing if I were on the East coast, and on the west coast my related and pretty much related family would be missing. When I have leave and I go to the east coast I don't have time to visit my NY family, and my VA family, and my SC family. Home for me would be some scenario where all of those people could be gathered together for Mass, and then a huge pizza party afterwards. When I travel overseas it is not America that I miss (cheeseburgers, the mall, fast internet and all that) but the people. My friends. And when I am in a non-Catholic country I miss the Mass.

In a similar way that I have home all over the place in the people I love, I have also been to many different Catholic churches and seen many different liturgies. Some hold a special place in my heart (shoutout to Our Lady of Good Counsel in Verona, NY; St. Mary's in Greenville SC; and St. Francis Cabrini in Lakewood WA) but at all of them there is Jesus in His Sacramental Presence. There I am at home. 
It is amazing where you can find a Catholic Church these days. Just google "Catholic Church in Kathmandu and a link for the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption will appear. Since I happened to find myself in Kathmandu, with a google machine handy, I did such a search, and for the price of an outrageously expensive and more than usually dangerous taxi ride, I was able to get to the Church thirty minutes before the 9:00 A.M. Sunday morning Mass. (In Nepal, Saturday is the day off, it being a Hindu country, so Sunday is the first day of the work and school week.)

The Church in her role as educator.
I fell in love with this Church right away. Kind of like the Church I attended in Thailand, there was a strong blending of western and Nepali art and architecture. (The Navajo church I attended in Arizona was a different story. That was straight up Navajo. The only western influence was the English language, and I felt like even that was merely a concession to the priest, who spoke no Navajo.) The Church can assimilate seamlessly into any culture and give it rebirth from within if it is not hampered by overzealous ministers. I think that even the most vehemently anti-Catholic regime or hostile government or culture will not hinder the spread of the faith one half so much as her own ministers will when they insist on too narrow a view of what the Church is.

But I digress. I spent some time wandering around the outside of the Church and School buildings. Kathmandu is a large, loud, dirty city. The church was located, not in Kathmandu proper but in another city called Lotpuri, which is separated from Kathmandu by a river filled with trash. The streets around the church complex are narrow enough that two taxis cannot pass in them. The church grounds are surrounded by a brick wall with concertina wire on top of it part of the way around, and a security guard at the gate. He made me leave my backpack at the guard house. I had a laptop, Samsung galaxy note, passport, and about 80,000 Rupees ($920.00 US [Long Story]) in it. I was therefore a bit hesitant, but he promise to watch it. I figured, you know what? God's got this. So I left it under St. Isadore's protection, taking only my passport. St. Isadore is a favorite of mine. Remind me to tell you about that sometime.
No Shoes inside. You will notice that my shoes are covered by a touristy white hat which I bought to keep the sun off my touristy (and balding) white head.

I took a surreptitious picture during the Gospel. Does that make me a bad Catholic?
There are no pews in this church. There are some plastic lawn chairs along the side aisles, for the old people, but where the pews would be in the body of the church there are only rows of much compressed red cushions. Parishioners are expected to sit or kneel on these cushions. I am actually quite good at sitting cross-legged, but that was a bit rough on the knees. Totally worth it though. I enjoy praying cross-legged. I can see why Zen practitioners often meditate thus and at the risk of being branded New Age or (horrors!) a Liberal! I have often thought that it might profitably be used by Catholics as well.

One consequence of not having pews is that when it came time for Communion, people simply made a beeline straight for the Eucharist! Back of the church, front of the church, whenever and however they liked, they came. It may not have seemed orderly, but it made sense to them and I am sure it made sense to Jesus as well.

And it was the Mass! Apart from any novelty, irrelevant to any strange customs or eye-attracting art or architecture, above and beyond and infinitely deeper than all of these things (yet at the same time in and with and through all of these things) it was the Mass. The God of the Universe saw fit to arrange my schedule and travel plans to make it possible for me to visit Him in the Mass. It bears out what I have said on this blog many times, brings it home, (pun very much intended) that God wants to give Himself to me far more than I could ever want to receive Him.
The old lady on the right in white sat cross-legged for the entire Mass except the standing and kneeling bits. It took her literally fifteen seconds to get back to her feet after Mass. And we Americans feel imposed upon when we have to kneel during the Consecration!? I also loved the fact that as she very, very slowly made her way up the aisle after Mass, all the children came running to her for her blessing. I probably should have done the same, and just didn't know it.
Praise the Lord all you nations!

Sunday, May 5, 2013


This one time in a third world country in Asia, my team and I were assigned to train with the local military. The base we trained at was a little affair of cement buildings with tin roofs, charmingly straggling down the side of a mountain. We worked there, but we were staying at a little family owned in about half a mile down the mountain.

Now, I am pretty big on working out. Even when I am overseas I maintain a solid workout program. I see it as an intrinsicart of my overall worship of God, to strengthen and train everything He has given me, and hopefully toplaceit at His service however He wishes. Since my favorite workouts, besides martial arts, are weight training sessions, and since weights and kettlebells are too heavy and expensive to take with me, I found a piece of equipment that I can pack for cheap. It is a sandbag, specifically designed for working out. It has an inner liner of tough plastic with a velcro-reinforced zipper, and anouter bag of heavy duty canvas with reinforced handles and an even beefier velcro-reinforced zipper. Simply fill it up with dirt or sand, and you can lift it, swing it, throw it or slam it to your heart's content. Beautifully simple and elegant.

The first day after we had gotten settled in I looked around for a place to get some dirt to fill my sandbags. I planned on leaving them at the base so I could exercise after work each day, but the place I found to get dirt from was at a little construction site next to the inn. The innkeeper was building some new buildings so he had hired some local peasants to make bricks for him. They had a little dirt quarry carved into the hillside and they were carrying the dirt to the platform and pressing it into bricks with a hand operated press. The innkeeper's son said I could take as much dirt as I wanted. He also looked at me like I was crazy when I explained what I was doing.

So I designated Operation Fill the Bags as the workout for the day. I would run up to the base, grab my sandbags, run them down and fill them, and then carry them back up the half  mile to the base, one at a time. Getting them down to the dirt quarry was pretty simple, just a nice easy run. Once down there I borrowed a shovel from the workers and began to fill them.

Now, the workers spoke no English, but they seemed very interested in what I was doing. They stopped their work, all of them, and squatted in place. The press handle operating guy stopped operating his press handle, the dirt mixing lady stopped mixing her dirt, and they just squatted on their heels and watched me with strange, quiet bemused looks on their faces. I filled one part of the way, closed it up and hefted it to test the weight, then opened it back up and kept filling.

The innkeeper came down to laugh, and asked me how heavy I was making thiem. I guessed the one I had finished was about 40 kilos (turned out it was actually 42.) He laughed and said something to the workers. They shook their heads and murmured to each other. He informed me that they had been wondering if I were going to carry dirt over to the work site for them, and they didn't understand what I was doing.

You see, they absolutely could not conceive of any purpose for loading up a bag of dirt except to use it for construction. The concept of doing that simply for the purpose of exercise was utterly foreign to them. The had the looks that said, "What will these crazy white people think of next?"

It reminded me a lot of a look my dad's dad used to wear. He was extremely hard of hearing  and completely out of touch with his grandchildren's world. I remember running up to him over flowing with excitement about dinosaurs or a lego building or some such thing and trying to explain it to him. We could never be sure how many of our words he actually heard and how much of it he just didn't understand, but he would usually end up shaking his head with a bewildered smile. His face seemed to say, "How do these kids have time for this stuff? Why do they need to know about dinosaurs? When I was young all I needed to know about was farm work." And he would shake his head as if he couldn't understand such a waste of time.

The peasant workers had the exact same look on their faces, as brown and hard as the bricks they were making. "This crazy white boy! What is he thinking? Moving dirt for exercise? How does he have time for such nonsense? And I have been moving dirt for my whole life. If he wants to move dirt so much, let him come here and move some dirt in a way that will at least be useful. But if I were that rich that I had spare time, I certainly would not be moving dirt."

It occured to me that there was an unbridgable gap between their experience and mine. From my perspective, what I was doing made perfect sense. From their point of view it was sheer nonsense.

This troubles me in a way. I have always been driven to try to understand other people's point of view as much as possible from the inside, imaginatively stepping into their shoes and really trying to see what they see and feel what they feel. I guess it is part of being a storyteller, but this made me realize that no matter how hard I try, I can never fully enter into their experience. My background has given me a depth of imagination so that I can guess to some extent how they might be feeling. But they have no frame of reference whereby they can understand what I was doing and why. They cannot imagine what I have done, where I have been, what I have seen, what I have put myself through. And there is no way that I can know what it is like to labor at making bricks all day, every day, from the time I was old enough to pick up a shovel, never learning how to read, never imagining a world outside my mountain valley.

And yet God knows both of us. Compared to His greatness our relqtive levels of amallness are nonexistent. He is more intimate to each of us than we are to ourselves,and He loces each of us with an infinite love. Somehow, in knowing Him as I pray we both will someday, we will know each other perfectly.

May I see Him and all that He loves so that I forget myself.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sore Feet

Posts are going to be few and far between for a while. Right now there are three big things going on in my life. They are work, school and social life. Blogging may just fall by the wayside a bit.

Once upon a time I was out doing a long cross country ski movement with a group of army guys. We had done a similar movement the day prior, and were still feeling the effects of it. In particular, because of the new boots we were wearing, myself and one other guy had developed blisters. I had a blister the length and breadth of my thumb on the inside of my left ankle, just below the ankle bone. The other guy had a blister about an inch and a half across under the ankle bone on the inside of both ankles.

In addition to the blisters (which really weren't that serious, as blisters go), there was extensive bruising underneath the skin. Any pressure from ankle bone to heel was excruciatingly painful, and inversion of the foot was likewise painful.

As we were moving through the snow he kept falling farther and farther behind until finally I (being the medic) told the NCO in charge, "Hey, his feet are pretty torn up."

The NCOIC replied succinctly, "Faggot!" Just like that he dismissed the whole thing. Keep up. Do not be the slowest guy or else. We won't do anything to you, really. No adverse consequences, no paperwork, no punishment. We'll just ridicule you. Call you a pansy. Make jokes about your girly feet and your week genes.

At first I was irritated. I knew what the movement was doing to his feet. It wasn't damaging them permanently, but it was preventing them from healing. Any granulation tissue that had formed the night before was getting rubbed off with every step. The bandage he had put on wasn't the best and it was forming wrinkles and hot spots which might eventually turn into more blisters. Was it going to break a bone? No. Do nerve damage? Unlikely. Get infected? Probably not.

We were not out on patrol, we were just conducting a ski movement, for the express purpose of learning how to ski cross country and try out the new equipment. No one's life was in danger, there was no mission, no enemy, no legitimate reason why we had to keep going. Why do it? Why not just stop?

But we didn't stop. I rebandaged his feet at the next stop, and we kept going for hours. And he made it. He couldn't break snow, but he didn't fall behind.

Sometimes as a medic, or even as a human being, it seems pretty intuitive. If something is causing your patient pain, you stop doing that thing. But this event reminded me of the fact that my feet were hurting too, but I wasn't quitting. I didn't even want to ask. It reminded me of all the times I had wanted to stop, but would never have asked for it. There were so many times when I would have been half-insulted and half-overjoyed to have been told, "That's it, you've had enough. Sit this one out." On the one hand who are you to tell me when I have had enough? You don't know what I am capable of. On the other hand, I don't want to do this anymore. It hurts. Wouldn't it be amazing to have a legitimate excuse to stop?

But I didn't. I would not be who I am today if someone had had sympathy on me and taken me out when I wanted to be taken out. Instead they left me with two options; keep going or quit. For some reason I kept going. God only knows why. It made me into the person that I am.

When I wanted the NCOIC to let that guy off, I wanted to show him mercy, give him a way out. He wanted a way out. He didn't get one. And he got through it and became stronger.

In a way sore feet are a microcosm of my job. I deal with human sinfulness and evil. If it weren't for them I would have no job. There would be no war. God grant I see the day when there is no war and soldiers are all out of work, but on the other hand, what will we replace war with? The hell of war and the purgatory of training the readies men for war are ugly things, but they can bring out greatness. Without adversity, there is no greatness, it seems. But is there adversity without evil? How would Adam and Eve have acheived greatness?

It is an acedemic question only, because the fact is that there is evil and we have to deal with it. But on the other hand maybe there is something there. The NCOIC's ridicule didn't sit well with me, although I knew what he was doing, and he was right about it. That guy did make it, and it was better that he did. I like the virtue of courage and discipline that makes such men who they are, but I don't like the way it comes through. There should be a way to be tough and courageous without being unsympathetic. That is part of my lifelong pursuit of the Way of the Warrior; finding that way.