I really believe our lives are an amalgamation of the stories we are told. The role of humanity, as God designs, is to tell and to listen. Stories illumine all of life’s major pathways. Stories are to be cherished for the truths they tell. We do our best work as human beings when we listen to people’s stories. My brother should tell you this story because he is the one to whom it was gifted.
Greg lives in Henderson NV, a microcosm of society in races and cultures. One day he pulled in to a Barnes and Noble Bookstore. At the same time he parked, another car parked and a young man got out of the car. Greg said he was positively soldier -- buzz cut hair, ramrod straight posture. He looked at Greg as both men got out of their cars. Once in the store, the young man seemed to be following him, always a book shelf or two away. Out of curiosity my brother moved to the book section that held the military items. Immediately the young man came up to him and said, “Are you military, sir?” He answered, “Well, not me, but my grandfather and father were both veterans. I like to read military history.” My brother said what happened next was a moment when God was directing the action. A chance encounter? Not in his mind.
The man began to talk about his two tours of duty in Iraq and the Peshawar valley. After 9/11 he had decided he needed to do something for his country and so he joined the Marines. During his second tour he was a sniper who fired with such accuracy the locals called him ‘the jackal’ or ‘the coyote’. For nearly an hour he talked to Greg about the IED’s, about what it was like to shoot a man up close, the friends he lost in the conflict and the terrible pounding the soldiers took time after time.
Finally he was ready to come home. The hum-vee he was in hit an IED, killing all but three of those aboard. Diving for cover they came under heavy fire during which one of the three was wounded and this soldier was injured by a concussion bomb. When he woke up he was in Mannheim, Germany, along with scores of other wounded and dying.
My brother, who has a degree in counseling, said he just listened, finally telling the man, “I’m a little burned out listening to all of this, let’s go get coffee next door.” The story continued as the soldier talked about the feelings of the men and women who return from their tours of duty. The welcomes and the handshakes are well and good, but he said no one can really understand what they are feeling. Most of them feel like ‘cannon fodder’ constantly thrown back in to the fighting, seeing places they had fought and died for taken over by ISIS, hearing rumblings of having to go back in and fight again. Then came the bottom line -- all his friends had died in the conflict. He was struggling with his duty to tell their stories to anyone who would listen to him.
When at last the man had finished, my brother shook his hand and encouraged him to keep telling the story, to talk to professionals, and to never give up. He told the young man that telling the story is the final gift he could give to his comrades. As the last man standing only he knew what they had been through. The hand of God is always moving and we must be open to God’s design. To those of us called to listen to the story, we fulfill God’s purpose and are given a great gift in the listening.