Thursday, July 30, 2009

Warriors, Where They May Be

Some periods in my life seem to have been very simple and extremely well defined. That isn't to say that those periods were always positive or even healthy, but there is something to be said for clarity and a sense of direction.

One such time in my life was during some of my initial military training. Life was difficult by design and the situations were stressful and trying. However, I think people who stop simply being a soldier and somehow have everything within them morphed into a warrior remember the exact moment when they changed.

For me it was the moment when marching in accordance with approved military regulations was no longer important. Knowing who and when to salute, the appearance of my uniform and even when, where and how I would eat again all became peripheral details that neither greatly mattered nor were irresponsibly ignored. The lone thing that mattered was life. Surviving and being able to preserve my life and the life of those with whom I was with and the taking of the life of anyone or anything that seemed to challenge the first objective.

While that admittedly sounds gruesome and perhaps a bit barbaric, the simple truth is that without the warriors in this world, life wouldn't be as grand...or perhaps even possible for most people. Warriors on the battlefield transform history through courage, honor, bravery and brotherhood...yes, often through the taking of life. Sometimes warriors live long enough to wage battles in other areas of life. From service in those battles Warriors rarely receive medals and often they don't even receive recognition. Those things are fine for the Warrior because only soldiers care about the applause of men and the kind of glamour one can hang on the wall. The warriors of this world simply care that they gave their all for an honorable cause and that they were, collectively if not individually, victorious.

Some times in this world Warriors aren't found on the traditional battlefield. Sometimes they aren't even called Warriors. Maybe we call them Mom, Dad, Single Mother, Coach, Neighbor, Friend, Husband, Wife, Teacher, Physician, Minister, etc.
Warriors, when not on the traditional fields of battle are the people who refuse to "half-ass" life. They refuse to be defined by what are at times, really horrible circumstances. They may get down but they never quit...the Warrior's Heart beating within them demands that they die before they quit, give-up, surrender or retreat from the battle of life.

Warriors, regardless of where they are found should, at the very least, be honored. I hope we can all find a Warrior in our lives to honor. If you are the Warrior in your life...I honor you.

I close with quotes from two great Warriors who fought on opposing sides in The War of Northern Aggression (Civil War). Their statements represent the two sides present in the lives and hearts of every warrior who has experienced death all too intimately and who have also experienced what it means to really, fully live.

"The scene now presented was unspeakably grand. The resolute and impetuous charge, the rush of our heavy columns sweeping out from the shadow and gloom of the forest into the open fields flooded with sunlight, the glitter of arms, the onward dash of artillery and mounted men, the retreat of the foe, the shouts of the hosts of our army, the dust, the smoke, the noise of fire-arms—of whistling balls and grape-shot and of bursting shell—made up a battle scene of unsurpassed grandeur."

—Confederate Brig. Gen. Bushrod Johnson
September 20th, 1863 regarding The Battle of Chickamauga

"But out of that silence rose new sounds more appalling still; a strange ventriloquism, of which you could not locate the source, a smothered moan, as if a thousand discords were flowing together into a key-note weird, unearthly, terrible to hear and bear, yet startling with its nearness; the writhing concord broken by cries for help, some begging for a drop of water, some calling on God for pity; and some on friendly hands to finish what the enemy had so horribly begun; some with delirious, dreamy voices murmuring loved names, as if the dearest were bending over them; and underneath, all the time, the deep bass note from closed lips too hopeless, or too heroic to articulate their agony...It seemed best to bestow myself between two dead men among the many left there by earlier assaults, and to draw another crosswise for a pillow out of the trampled, blood-soaked sod, pulling the flap of his coat over my face to fend off the chilling winds, and still more chilling, the deep, many voiced moan that overspread the field."

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: 20th Maine,At the end of the first day's fighting at Fredericksburg

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Great Warrior, A Strong Man

I suppose that we all have people in our ancestry that have fought in wars or that have at least served in the military. I personally served in the U.S. Army and have so many relatives that have served in every branch of the military that I would be afraid to mention them for fear of leaving some out.

Today I read the story of my great-great-great Grandfather, Hillard Garrison Waldrep. He was born January 4, 1842 and he went by the name "Hillary". He was a soldier in The War of Northern Aggression (The Civil War). His story is inspiring and is certainly one of valor, bravery, courage and toughness. Here is a bit of his story.

Grandpa Hillary served in B Company of the 16th Alabama Regiment of Infantry. He voluntarily enlisted in August 1861. He served as a personal assistant to General Wood and General Preston. I imagine only certain people were allowed to serve in those roles. Since he enlisted at the rank of Private, he surely earned his position with the Generals.

In a letter written to his local newspaper and dated May 19, 1905 Hillary wrote,

"I have been shot and badly wounded several times. the first battle I was at Fisher's Creek but I only got my heel shot off. The second was at Chickamauga, where I was badly wounded by a shot through the neck. I feel it until this day, but I still like the gray (the color of The Confederate uniform). On the 22nd of July, 1864, I got shot in the foot, through both legs and through the bowels all in the same battle at Franklin, Tennessee. Those shots through my legs were in my thighs and one knee shot off. The total number of wounds I sustained were seven"

Another story from Hillary's time spent fighting the Yankees was that while serving with General Bragg Hillary shot and killed a Northern General. He told General Bragg that he thought he could shoot the General even though the General and Northern troops were very far away. General Bragg told him to give it a try so he did. Hillary raised the sights on his rifle 200 yards MORE than they already were and fired. After Hillary took the gun down from his shoulder, they saw the Yankee General topple off of his large gray horse. The horse was spooked and ran across the large field toward the Confederate Soldiers. General Bragg told Hillary that he could keep the horse, bed-roll and equipment. For what it's worth, Hillary later sold the horse for $100.

Other stories about my Grandfather and his fellow soldiers were not so glamorous. Like how the food wagons were drawn by mules and were often several days behind the troops. Often, when the wagons would catch up to the soldiers the food would be spoiled or molded. The men were often so hungry they would scratch corn out of the ground from where it had been trampled on by horses who were once fed in that area. They would simply wash and parch the corn and eat it. Despite the unsanitary conditions, starvation, insufficient clothing and multiple wounds, Hillary lived to be 88 years old. He died on July 21, 1930.

Hillary Garrison Waldrep is a great American hero and is a man for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration. May his legacy of courage, honor and grit be honored and, if needed, repeated in the lives of his many descendants.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Red Clay and Red Roses

Death is part of life. Death is shrouded in fear and pain more than any other aspect of life and it just doesn't seem to be optional. Death can be tough at any age, but it seems to be more difficult for those who can't easily wrap their young and inexperienced minds around the concept. Such was the case this past Monday afternoon.

Reagan has been part of our family longer than our three sons have been. In fact, Reagan was the English Mastiff who was to be our "child" until we were ready to have kids years later. Obviously that wasn't God's plan as our oldest son was born a year after Reagan. Reagan was our 230lb baby that was determined and quite content to serve, love and play. It is only expected and natural that a void exists now in our hearts as Reagan died recently.

He appears to have simply gone to sleep and died in his sleep. We highly suspected that he had cancer as he had lost weight and seemed to age quickly over the past few months. Despite that, he never suffered and we know that far to many pet lovers have had a very different tale to tell regarding their sick pet.

After Reagan's death, my family gathered around a plot on our property where Reagan's original dog house was and we began to dig. For such a large animal a small and simple hole wouldn't suffice. After a long time of digging through the hard, red clay we finally had a very deep hole in which I could place our Gentle Giant. The boys helped me dig through the clay and we were all exhausted by the time we were finished. Alabama clay can be as hard to dig through as grief and sadness.

Once the burial was completed, the boys placed Reagan's favorite ball, a "tombstone" and some roses Brook cut from our plants. It was fitting and in so many ways beautiful. The most touching part to me was how the boys prayed to conclude the event. To hear their hearts being openly expressed to God and in their own way taking their emotions and loss to Him was amazing. Losing Reagan has been difficult for the whole family. His large stature is certainly indicative of the large hole left in each of us. I am thankful for the companion he was and for the lessons in life, loss and love the boys have learned through this process. The boys will face more significant losses in their future. We can only hope and pray that during those times they will show the same tendency to go to God with their hearts.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ready To Roll Again

I haven't been blogging for several weeks now. I have started to a few times and either my hectic schedule and/or the lack of having anything interesting or important to write have seemed prohibitive. I think it is time to write again and I think it is only fitting to begin with blogging about time, schedules and "being busy".

Several years ago I read a book by Dr. Richard Swenson titled, The Overload Syndrome. In this book, Dr. Swenson outlines how life can become unmanageable and out of control even under the best circumstances. He uses his own life as an example of how someone can be exactly where they have always wanted to be in their career, marriage, parenting, church and social lives...yet something is just not right.

Apparently the key to not falling victim to the Overload Syndrome is to create margins in life. Simply put, don't fill up every moment of every day with commitments, promises and plans. Leave room for rest, recreation, down time, contemplation, prayer, reading...anything that can be a respite from the raging river of our hectic, out of control lives.

After discussing my thoughts with several close friends and family members I have come to the conclusion that most of us have the most excruciating expectations placed on us by ourselves. I know that even my harshest critics or the most demanding people in my life don't hold a candle to the ways in which I critique myself and demand the most of the things I attempt to do in life.

I am attempting again to create margins and attempt to give myself a break when it comes to over-scheduling my time and my energy. I am hopeful that the margins will open up some time for me to relax and do the things in life I am called to do and created to do...not to mention the things in life that are simple and fun.