On a vacation to Bangalore a few weeks back, we stayed very close to the military training center. Every time I stepped out of the hotel, my eyes would fall upon the billboard that said ‘JOIN THE ARMY – NOW!’ I remember as a child, meeting a friend of my aunt in Hyderabad, who had three sons – one in the Army, one in the Navy and one in the Air Force. Her husband too held a high position in the Indian Army. More than the men, my thoughts turned to that brave woman who boldly led her life with her sons and husband away on duty to the nation. Perhaps every soldier has the pride of being in service to his nation. But their women-folk too deserve to be commended on their courage and sacrifice, leading their lives with the fear of losing their loved ones always echoing in the back of their mind.
Death has a finality that sends a shiver down the bravest man’s spine. While fear of death may be non-existent to these soldiers in broad daylight, the trauma of facing death haunts even the most courageous of men. What then to be said of those who live in the shadow of this fear for the loved ones in their life? It is easier to face the challenges in ones own life than to ghost argue the lives of near and dear ones. Oh! What selfless actions our brave soldiers and their families have endured to safe guard our lives.
Major Sullivan Ballou wrote a letter to his wife just one week before the Battle of Bull Run in which he was killed. It read – “If I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I loved you, nor that when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name… If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights… always… always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit…”
Reading this letter, I wonder if the word selfless truly conveys even a fragment of their sacrifices. We generally think that selfless people are those who are interested only in what is useful or good for other people and not at all in what is good or useful for oneself. But I wonder… Can anyone really function with total commitment towards a goal that is outside of his or her interests? Is it possible to do well to others divorcing our interests?
Was Jesus Christ like that? NO WAY! If Jesus Christ had not been interested in being a messiah, he could have remained an ordinary mortal! If he had been a reluctant messiah he could not have transformed so many lives or created such an impact that the human race still follows his teaching two thousand years after him! I’m sure Jesus Christ passionately wanted to transform and heal mankind and if that passion is still alive perhaps one day he will rise again! Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself”.
Indeed, it is the truth that we cannot wholeheartedly help others without helping ourselves. But what makes every legend accomplish his ideal is that they see the whole of mankind as a part of themselves! Because the whole world is within their identity of themselves, they change the life of every person they touch. Because Jesus identified himself with every person around him, including Judas, He lived a life that was totally SELF LESS – here I mean without a limited identity of the self! Because Gandhiji identified himself with the image of an Ideal Indian, he was able to command and demand from the common Indian mass co-operation unheard of before! Mahatma Gandhi insisted, “I don’t want India’s freedom out of Britain’s ruin!” only because to him human beings were not separated by caste, creed or color. Yet here we stand today ready to renounce any sense of identification with the father of the nation! Only because Mother Teresa saw the sufferings of the lepers of Calcutta as her own suffering, she was able to give her entire life to help them. Without that sense of identification, none of these legends could have realized their vision.
Every soldier in our army, navy and air force identify themselves with each and every common man in this nation and that is how they are capable of facing a war with total self-control! And every war-mother identifies every soldier as her son, praying for his safe return home. But do we – citizens of a so-called free world forever at war with each other – bother to spend a moment of our day in memory of those soldiers who have shed their lives for our sake?
Reading this poem written by an American soldier killed during World War II brought tears to my eyes. A stretcher-bearer found the following verse, written on the back of a cigarette box.
“Look God I have never spoken to you,
But now I want to say ‘How do you do?’”
You see God they told me you didn’t exist,
And like a fool, I believed all this.
Last night from a shell-hole I saw your sky,
I figured right then they told me a lie.
Had I taken the time to see things You made,
I’d have known they weren’t calling a spade a spade.
I wonder God if you’d shake my hand.
Somehow I feel You would understand.
Funny I had to come to this hellish place,
Before I had time to see Your face.
Well I guess there isn’t much more to say,
But I’m glad, God I met You today.
I guess the ‘Zero hour’ will soon be here.
But I’m not afraid since I know You are near.
The signal: Well, God, I’ll have to go;
I like You a lots; and I want You to know.
Look, now, this will be a horrible fight;
Who knows? I may come to your home tonight;
Though I wasn’t friendly to You before,
I wonder, God if You’ll wait at Your door.
I wish I had known You all these years.
Well, I have to go now, God; Goodbye;
Strange since I met You, I’m not afraid to die….”
Can’t we find a few moments in our long day to reflect on the sacrifices made by those who shed their mortal bodies so that our families and we may live in peace? Marjorie Pizer writes –
I had thought that your death
Was a waste and a destruction,
A pain of grief hardly to be endured.
I am only beginning to learn
That your life was a gift and a growing
And a loving left with me.
Isn’t it time we ensured that the deaths of all those soldiers and the sacrifices of every human being in any a walk of life, are not in vain – a waste and a destruction, a pain of grief to be endured. Isn’t it time we learnt that their lives are a gift and a growing – a loving left for us to spread!
Written by Gita Krishna Raj | Published in infinithoughts in July 2003