We started talking. I don’t remember why. I think that he wanted to have a chaplain stop by. Or maybe a nurse was concerned about him and asked if he wanted us.
Whatever. We started talking.
He was sad, that I remember. He talked about his life, a difficult one. He talked about his military service, decades ago.
I told him that I’d been watching a television series on the Vietnam War, that it was helping me understand how hard it had been.
About that point in the conversation, he said what I do remember: “I didn’t kill any babies.” He said it with tears. He said it with anguish. He said it with the knowledge that things had been awful, that he done more than he might have wished, that he had seen more than he had done. He said it with the despair of the falsely accused, unable to defend himself.
Five decades after coming home from nearly pointless strife, losing the ability to shut his eyes without having nightmares, he was still wounded by being welcomed with the greeting, “baby-killer”.
I wept with him. I talked with him. I offered peace.
But I carried some of his pain with me.
I understand frustration and fear and tribes and sides.
But I also understand fragility. I listen to the words of James: With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
Among the people who backed my hospital friend, and among the people who attacked him, were likely brothers and sisters of James. We had the opportunity to agree or disagree with his war, with his actions. But before God, we did not then nor do we now have the self-appropriated obligation to curse human beings who have been made in God’s likeness.
The words we use like weapons, the labels we apply like duct tape, the accusations we toss like grenades can leave scars that the healing oil of chaplains and the gentle breath of the Spirit may not ever soften.
My brothers and sisters, this should not be.