The Navy

September 19, 2012

November 21, 1972 was a Tuesday… I remember it well. I woke up very early that day for my father to drive me down to the Federal building in Pittsburgh PA; I was leaving for boot camp. I had a small satchel with me since I had been instructed to bring only the minimal amount of possessions. The letter I received from the Navy was quite clear that everything would be sent home so “don’t bring anything but essentials!” My first lesson in people not following instructions was when I finally got to boot camp and found guys with suitcases and hanging bags filled with clothes and other in sundry items. I assumed their moms packed for them.  My dad dropped me off outside of the building sometime before 6:00 a.m.

Since I was now officially in the Navy, the yelling, insults, and cursing began almost as soon as I entered the building. It always amazed me how many curse words some of these guys could string together and still make a complete sentence. I was put together with a half a dozen other guys I didn’t know and we were all given plane tickets and herded onto a bus and sent to the airport with instructions on how to get to the Naval Training Center in San Diego, California. The next thing I remember was being in the air. Since the 6 of us sat close to one another we got to know each other a bit on the flight. I didn’t know enough then to realize that this was all about posturing…, i.e., figuring out where we were going to fall on the social scale. Nor did I know that these other guys would go through boot camp with me and in the case of one guy we would be stationed together after boot camp as well.

We landed in California mid-afternoon and made our way to NTC San Diego. Again, the yelling, cursing, insults… We were placed into a “temporary company.” That simply means we were put into a barracks with other guys who were arriving until enough were accumulated to make a permanent group and we would then begin our training. Again, the posturing was never ending, nor was the yelling, cursing….

After being herded to dinner I thought I should give my dad a call and tell him I had arrived safely. There was a bank of pay phones and I had brought a pocket full of change for the occasion. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hi Dad, just wanted to tell you I’m here.

Dad: Ok.

Long silence….

Me: Um… well ok… uh… I’ll talk to you later.

Dad: Ok.

Me: Bye.

Dad: Bye.

When I hung up the phone a feeling of immense loneliness came over me; 3000 miles from home, I didn’t know a soul, and adults from every angle screaming at me and everyone else. And to exacerbate all of this, the one person I needed words of encouragement from was… well… just not able to do that.

I’m sure there is not one person reading this who has not experienced loneliness in their lives. Dark, empty, depressing loneliness. Sometimes we are surrounded by people we know and we still feel lonely. It’s a terrible feeling. But you know that don’t you?

Now I don’t want to make an unrealistic jump here, but I may. What in the universe must Jesus have been feeling when he cried these words: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Frankly, I can barely read those words without tears coming to my eyes. The depths of loneliness Jesus was experiencing among other feelings too horrible to imagine is overwhelming. Jesus, alone, abandoned, and in the grip of the enemy and those who hate him. Unimaginable pain, physically, emotionally, and spiritually came over him. And to imagine he “enlisted” for that! He signed up for it! He wasn’t drafted. And just as important, he did it for you and me!

Somehow in the providence and timing of God a dreadful decision was made. “How do we save this creation that we so much love? What do we do with the sin and wickedness that has broken our communion? Somehow/someone has to pay for it!”

I don’t know what to say about this other than: I am beyond humbled by the decision that was made to allow communion between myself and God to be restored. There is and was nothing I could do to cause this to occur on my own. “My God, My God” did it for me. As that great gospel hymn says: “Oh Happy Day, when Jesus washed my sins away!”

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