Thursday, September 15, 2016

The razors edge.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

Anyone who has lived at all soon learns about the easy and the hard way. It is easy to follow in the footsteps of friends, associates and even family members who take shortcuts and chart a course into lives of luxury that seem to assure minimal risk and maximum comfort. It is likewise hard to choose a path less traveled that is awash with adversity, rejection and leads through that narrow gate to the fullness of life. While blinded by clouds of uncertainty it is common to rush back through the broad gate to familiar but thin relationships. Charting a path through the unknown is what trailblazers have always accepted; it goes with the territory.

That overview is so easy to say and so difficult to sustain. Max Cleland wrote his now famous Strong at the Broken Places: the story of extraordinary overcoming that emerged from tragedy. Cleland served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War, and attained the rank of Captain. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for valorous action in combat, including during the Battle of Khe Sanh. On April 8, 1968, with a month left in his tour, Cleland was ordered to set up a radio relay station on a nearby hill. A helicopter flew him and two soldiers to the treeless top of Hill 471, east of Khe Sanh. When the helicopter landed, Cleland jumped out, followed by the two soldiers. They ducked beneath the rotors and turned to watch the liftoff. Cleland reached down to pick up a grenade he believed had popped off his flak jacket. It exploded and the blast slammed him backward, shredding both his legs and one arm. Due to the severity of his injuries, doctors amputated both of Cleland’s legs above the knee, and his right forearm. He was 25 years old. That was 48 years ago and I, along with thousands of others who served, have lived with scars that run deep resulting from terrors of war.

What we seem to not understand is that we don’t always choose the narrow path. Often times it is thrust upon us and we have little choice but to struggle to overcome or succumb to the crush of adversity. Dying quickly can be much more attractive than dying inch by inch until there is no more energy or desire left to live. The latter may not seem desirable but the truth is the struggle to reach through and beyond the crush is what builds character, empathy and compassion. No one can pretend to wear another’s clothing of horror and struggle to endure. Each of us must travel this lonely path, whether thrust upon us or not.

It is paradoxical that every parent wants to spare their children hardship and many succeed, yet this often turns out to be a shallow and fruitless accomplishment that leaves young people with a thin illusion of superiority and little compassion or understanding for the plights of the less fortunate. How often it seems that people become empathetic only when adversity strikes one of their family members. Then the tables turn suddenly and the plight of others struck in similar fashion registers as a matter that affects them personally. What we have yet to learn is that every human being is someone’s child and in truth they are our child as well. This may not seem evident but no one is an island. We are on earth to learn this vital lesson and more times than not, the path to knowledge runs along the razors edge.

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