Daily Archives: November 11, 2008

Roll call

(reprinted from April 3, 2007, in honor of Veteran’s Day)

I was sitting in the VA Clinic in the western suburbs of Chicago with my dad. He was there for a regular blood test, something that’s part of his regular checkups. There were a dozen of us in the room, older men, wives, me. The appointment was for 9:30 am, but if you arrive early, Dad said, you don’t have to wait long.

The door to the medical space opened and two nurses appeared at the door. One called one name, and then the other, witha giggle in her voice started calling names: “Mr A, Mr. B, Mr. C…”a list of 6-7 names.

The men stand and slowly fall into line. One with a walker, one who can only shuffle, a couple standing at attention, others just quietly complying. They follow the nurses and, though I can’t remember what he said, I heard my dad making some funny remark.

Mr is what they are called now, but the service that qualified them for this service never showed them such politeness, nor smiled as they came nor waited patiently. These are men who paid for this attention with time and with blood. They gave up the ability to sleep without nightmares, some of them, and the ability to tell stories of significant chunks of their lives to their grandchildren. For them, shots still are about blood, but this time they are giving small amounts for testing. The previous shots, at least in one case I know of, nearly cost them life.

The only bathroom for the clinic is out in the waiting room, and so they must come with little bottles back through the doors and one at a time into the bathroom. It seems pretty obvious to those of us in the common space, but for these men, who abandoned privacy with the draft, it is far more modest than anything they knew in Viet Nam or Korea or anywhere in between.

“Good morning, young lady” is the greeting from one called later. “They didn’t call the ambulance so I must be okay,” said another. And a steady stream of phone calls while I wait. The staff voices are always patient, always cheerful, always helping. For a Monday morning, this is remarkable customer service.

And then, he appears at the door, ready for breakfast. Dad had to fast for the blood test and
we’re off for pancakes and coffee and conversation. But as we move slowly to the car, limited to the speed of the walker in his hands, and the legs slowed by a stroke several years ago, I am aware that my dad’s service to his country didn’t end when he got out of the hospital 52 years ago. He and his fellow soldiers keep showing up for roll call, keep responding with dignity. They still are a cross-section of humanity. They still stand for what happens when ordinary fragile human beings understand what has to be done and do it.

And at least one of them faces the rest of his life with a deternination to do what he can for his family and for the God whom he has served well for the last five decades.

i want to do it myself

The other day I was looking at twitter. As is always the case, I walked into the middle of a conversation. About how to catch fruit flies. Connie Reece said,

Fruit fly trap: Put banana pcs in styrofoam cup. Cover w/ cling wrap; secure w/ rubber band. Poke tiny holes in top w/ toothpick

Having problems with fruit flies, I tried the trap. Not having bananas, I used pieces of pear.

It worked.

I was astonished.

Connie spoke with confidence. She talked as if she had tried this solution. She gave clear directions. She used tools available around the house. The project worked with my own variations: plastic cup instead of styrofoam, pear instead of banana. She repeated the instructions several times to several people who asked.

I was thinking about fruit flies today in my favorite thinking place. I was also thinking about silence. I realized that if I am going to talk about the importance of silence, I have to have the same confidence Connie has about fruit fly traps. I have to be silent. If I am going to talk about solitude, I have to be alone. If I want to give directions that have freedom for adaptation, I need to identify what matters and what doesn’t.

Why silence in particular? Because in silence and solitude, in pockets of noiselessness, I most clearly hear God’s quiet voice.

I know. Quiet is hard to find. I often run a fan to create white noise to mask other sounds. The noise of 3 year olds cannot be masked. The din of conversations around the table, the frequent phone calls, the stream of questions–all of these are elements of noise that are necessary.

But I also know that I introduce a tremendous volume of noise into my life (pun half-intended).

I decide whether I turn on the radio when I’m alone. No one forces me to look at twitter or email or my feed reader or facebook as often as I look. I can decide whether to look at the screen in the middle of the conversation just to see whether someone responded to my question.

At least I think I can decide.

For the next week, I’m running some of my past posts while I work on some quiet.

Because if I can’t be quiet, I’ve got nothing to say.