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Column: Can we get it back?

Posted: May 7, 2018 4:37 p.m.
Updated: May 8, 2018 1:00 a.m.

I sort of remember the actual day, but didn’t understand its significance until many years later.

It was the late 1960s, maybe early 1970s, and the country was in the midst of some pretty tumultuous, divisive times.
I was very young -- I vaguely knew a war was going on somewhere and my dad had actually been in it. I knew there was all kinds of crazy things going on in the world, but I wouldn’t have known much about race riots or anti-war protests or anything, really, about the wide variety of civil unrest underway.

I did know that the evening news on television would irritate and annoy my parents, particularly my dad. I also knew my dad did not allow the family to watch this new television show called M*A*S*H*. At the time, he said he didn’t allow it because it belittled the Army, which was his employer and by extrapolation, the organization that kept us fed, clothed and housed.

Later, I would realize it was a thinly veiled network protest of the war in Vietnam, which I’m sure he didn’t care for after dealing with it in the streets and on the news.

But I understood none of that. I was a lot more interested in the doings of our good friend and next door neighbor, who worked for NASA, who actually knew the astronauts, and who would bring me all kinds of cool memorabilia from places like Cape Kennedy and Houston. I didn’t even understand how important that was. In fact, I think my question to him was, “Why are they going to the moon again? Why don’t they go to Mars this time?”

Like I said, I didn’t really know what was going on in the world. How could I? I was 7 years old. I could sense there were things wrong out there, somewhere, but certainly no one would tell me anything about it.

So I waited for the astronauts to skip the moon and go on to Mars.

One day at church, our minister preached a pretty passionate sermon about war in general and the Vietnam War in particular. Needless to say, he was virulently against it. And yet, apparently in mid-tirade, he looked down from the pulpit and saw my father, sitting in the congregation.

Was dad wearing his dress uniform? Maybe -- especially if he actually was on duty later that day.

At any rate, the good reverend was so concerned that he might have deeply offended his good friend Colonel Tatum that he stopped dad on the way out of the sanctuary to apologize for any offense he might have unintentionally caused.

My father shook his friend’s hand, looked him squarely in the eye and said, and meant it, “No, you don’t need to apologize for that sermon at all -- I want my minister to feel the way you feel about war.”

That vignette periodically plays out in the movie reels of my mind -- just two good friends on a fine spring day chatting after church, the soldier and the clergyman, men who were successful in two somewhat diametrically opposite career paths. indeed, were probably miles apart politically. I read a few screeds on social media, occasionally listen to what passes for conversation on television or in real life and I wonder, can such a thing even happen anymore?

Here are two men, living through some of the most tumultuous times in our history, no doubt unalterably opposed on some issues, and yet they not only maintain civility during a potential moment of conflict, but they take pains to ensure each other that what they offer to the world is far more important than one point with which they might disagree. They can discuss potentially thorny subjects with respect because they respect and cherish each other’s intellectual acumen and innate goodness. It’s not a barrier, for them not even a boundary, really.

Most important, they understand innately that friendship is worth far more than politics and besides that, they might not be as far apart on some things as they might initially think.

I sometimes wonder if our society has strayed so far from that sort of interaction that we are doomed to certain destruction.

Then again, maybe that sort of respect was already rare, anyway, and soldier and the clergyman were the exception rather than the norm.

Whatever the case may be, it shouldn’t stop us from trying.

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