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By Norris Burkes April 12 2020
Last week’s column introduced a list of seven words that I live by which all begin with the letter F.
I promised to continue the list for Easter, but on this holy weekend, I want to concentrate on only one word – Forgiveness.
The word may bring appropriate focus for many of us in self-quarantine. Perhaps we are sequestered with someone we need to forgive.
As I learned on Easter morning 2009, time may be running short for some of us.
I was the chaplain in the Air Force Field Hospital in Balad, Iraq, when three patients were wheeled into our emergency room from a Black Hawk UH-60L helicopter.
The first patient had shrapnel in her right eye and a broken left hand.
Suddenly she blurted, “I couldn’t save him! He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“Who?” someone asked.
“Our team leader,” she said.
In the next few moments, the 98-pound-soldier recalled riding as a medic in a vehicle hit by an EFP (Explosively Formed Projectile) designed to penetrate an armored vehicle. When the half-blinded medic found that her team leader lost a leg, she reached into his hip cavity to pinch the femoral artery closed.
“You did the right thing,” our trauma czar told her. “That’s what we would have done.”
“He kept talking about his wife and unborn child,” the medic added, “but I couldn’t maintain my hold.”
“Just relax, now. You’re safe,” said the anesthetist prepping her for surgery. “There’s no way to close a hemorrhage that close to the groin.”
Soon after she’d been sedated, I made my way to another soldier with shrapnel injuries to his left leg. As quickly as I offered my help, he voiced a request.
“I want you to pray, chaplain,” he said, but there remained in his voice an incomplete sentence. It was as if he was saying, “It’s your turn now.”
He’d been praying ever since the explosion and now, with the spent fury of a relay runner, he was stretching his prayer baton to me. “I want you to pray that the insurgents will understand that we are trying to make their country better.”
“I can do that,” I said, giving the naiveté of his battlefield spirituality an assenting nod. “The Bible does say pray for your enemies.”
“Yes,” he said, “but it says more.”
With that cryptic remark, I felt my eyebrows furrow and my neck stiffen as he offered further guidance. “I want you to pray that God will forgive the insurgents that killed my friend.”
“What would that kind of prayer sound like?” I asked, reversing our naive roles.
“You know the prayer Jesus said on the cross?” he coaxed, as if trying to remind me of a forgotten password, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Of course I knew it. It was the prayer Jesus prayed as he too bled to death.
The prayer wasn’t for him; it was for the mob who unjustly crucified him.
Jesus had seen his killers not as evil people but as ignorant ones –¬ ignorant of their complicity in their own downfall. In fact, his prayer echoes through the eons, for me, for the wounded squad, for the insurgents and for you.
“I think that’s a great prayer, Private,” I said, still a little unsure of whether I was placating his battlefield shock or mine.
After I said the prayer, but before I allowed my eyes to open, I saw something ¬in the flash of a bloodied collage. I could imagine the insurgents planting the bomb, the explosion, the medic struggling to treat her squad, the team leader bleeding out and the private praying for them all.
At that moment, I understood. Our world will remain an unending circle of revenge until we learn, as did this wise and simple soldier, to continually repeat Jesus’ prayer. And as we pray it with all our hearts and souls, it will be answered. If not in this world, then in the next when we hear the promised words of Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
This column was excerpted from my book, “Hero’s Highway.” Contact Norris at [email protected] or 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.