Yesterday, I attended the funeral calling for a great and humble man.
Although I had only met him a couple of times, his family is dear to me and so accounts of his greatness are evident through their words and legacy.
He was a decorated marine veteran of the Korean War, and as with all stories from The Greatest Generation, I was captivated learning he served as a radio operator.
I don’t know near what I should about the Korean War except that like this man, and like my uncle who was a field surgeon there, they refused to talk about it. Although this is not uncommon among war veterans for obvious reasons, whatever abominable things Korean vets survived seem particularly unbearable. The extreme cold and rivers of red blood staining blinding white snow had to have been two wretched reasons alone.
Imagine, for a moment, the role of the marine radio operator.
Because I live with a husband and three sons who are consummate war buffs, I have watched (and been moved by) Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and nearly every contemporary, big screen war movie in between–and some of the old ones, too. I’ve seen depictions of radio operators in fox holes begging for someone to hear them, begging for more back-ups. I’ve seen how they had to swallow terror while on reconnaissance missions, navigating harrowing edges of enemy lines to send critical, tactical information back to officers.
And while in many ways I have no business comparing the role of the writer with a soldier, I couldn’t help but make a few connections. Maybe that’s because it’s Christmastime and conveying the imperative message of this season feels like battle. Maybe that’s because of the things I’ve learned this past year, in particular, about the politics of being an author.
Maybe that’s because I’ve been knocked down and tempted to hunker down in a proverbial fox hole and quit.
I think there are times–necessary times–in any artist’s life when they question their calling. That’s been me this year. Words didn’t flow. Plots didn’t form. I questioned my ability–maybe midlife has ruined my brain, as well as my waistline? I questioned myself–if only I wrote more like so-and-so. And most of all, I questioned my faith–if only I had more of it and lived a life more worthy of sharing G-d’s grace. If only this and more, writing would be easy.
But it was the calling of that hero, the marine radio operator, yesterday that helped shift my heart.
Lifting my eyes from the fox hole of self-pity (never a good place to be), I saw with new eyes the bloody and silent pain of people the world overlooks, and of those who have not yet felt the grace and peace of G-d.
Words are my transmitter and my receiver.
Writing is not about using all the proper literary devices, schmoozing at all the right conferences and literary circles, or garnering critiques from academically cloistered, progressive reviewers.
Writing is about listening through the static for the notes of the voiceless, and then playing their song.
These days, anyone trying to make headway with grace and hope is going to face unexpected mortar shells and miles left to go when our legs feel too heavy to carry the message.
You don’t have to be a writer to know that the battle is bigger than we are.
But the One who has called us is bigger still.