I think it was several thousand years ago that we heard about a war between the Greeks and the Trojans. And this collective memory in our mankind memory bank is evidence that this war thing that we hear about– and sometimes catch a glimpse of while others of us jump bravely into the fray–this war thing has been with us for a long time.
Now it is not very often you meet a woman who has spent 28 years in the US Army, but this is what happened to me yesterday.
I walked into a room where some folks in my hometown were gathered for a certain purpose, and at the end of the meeting I met Lieutenant Colonel Lory Whitehead. What she had to say seemed important to me, so I gave her some money and she handed me a book of poems she had written. This is what happens in America. She had something to sell, and I bought it. And when I read the little book of poems it knocked my sox off. May we always be so free to exchange information without censorship and without meddling from whomever is surveilling at any particular place and time.
I’ve never been in the military, but I know people who have served us in that way. I have no understanding of what these brave souls go through; but because I read Lory’s collection of letters, memoirs and poems that she collected over almost fifty years, I at least have some feeling about what these people go through to defend our freedom.
I was born in 1951. But about ten years before I came into this world, there was one hell of a big war that happened on this planet. While growing up, I learned about it in school, and every now and then I’d meet someone who fought in it, but it wasn’t until much later in life–like about a year ago when I began seriously researching a different war, the war that dominated the politics of my youth. (You know the one I’m talking about.)
Twenty years before we got into Vietnam, when the Big War was going on– the one where we drove the Nazis back into their holes– most of us Americans who were alive at that time, early 1940’s, banded together for the purpose of winning the damned thing.
At that time, women played a large part in our collective effort to defeat the Axis powers (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Emperor-worshipping Japan), but what the women were doing then was not much connected to combat. You’ve probably heard that old song from the period about Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B. That song, always sung by a female vocal group, is closely associated with the role of our women during World War II–to mostly act in supportive roles, Stateside.
All that changed (like everything else) in the 1960’s when women became more and more directly involved in our military endeavors. By the time of Desert Storm, women were taking some combat roles.
Lt. Col. Lory Whitehead’s poems include profound reflections of her experience in war, most notably in Kosovo.
What I would like to bring to your attention today is a poem that whe wrote and published in her 2014 book, reluctant warriors. The poem I have selected is: mama’s two hands. I never in my life thought I would read anything like this, but as it turns out, I have read it, and perhaps you should too. Read ’em and weep.
mama was a soldier, her right hand
knew how to hold a salute
and had learned to fire
handguns and automatic weapons,
even grenade launchers
that strong hand waved men
forward as she led them
into harm’s way.
and covered her eyes in pain
at memorial services
for fallen comrades.
mama was mama, her left hand
held a nursing baby to her breast
and was always available
to erase the tears of toddlers
frightened by loud noises.
that was the gentle hand, it pulled
errant children out of danger
and toasted the living
at weddings and christenings.
poor mama, it was often difficult
to keep each separate hand
in its proper place
and always the right hand
would be envying what
the left hand was doing.
Reading a poem like this made me realize just how much the world has changed, even in the time-range of my lifetime. And this world is still changing, probably getting faster and faster. Because: while humans have always been changing, modern technology has enabled us to step up the pace of change, exponentially. I’m just hoping it does not spins out of control beyond repair.
Nevertheless, if our world does ever spin out of control, my ultimate hope is in Christ, which is to say, God. Not any man, nor woman.