We were touched by Missioner Joel’s latest blog post.  A reminder of why working for peace is so importantit won’t haunt you later.

Photo by Flickr user Jayel Aheram

In Santa Vera Cruz I share some time with people who are terminally ill and living at a hospice operated by the Missionary Sisters of Calcutta. R, one of the residents, asked if I could show a particular movie there, Codigos de Guerra (Windtalkers). I found a copy and scheduled a show time.

At the hospice six residents and a few others wheeled or walked in to watch as the little pharmacy transformed first into a theater and then into the horrors of hand-to-hand military combat between Japanese and American soldiers on Saipan in World War II.

Soon the narrative centered on internal suffering from struggling with close relationships that survive when the people you shared them with have been destroyed. A part of that daily struggle becomes whether it is possible to allow oneself to get close to anyone or to allow oneself to get close to anyone or anything regardless of whether it seems worth our while.  In that, we may find ourselves aggressively practicing a philosophy of avoidance, or maybe just more generally wondering what part we might play if we found ourselves in the Samaritan story. Or in the future would any of us live in any way other than as a memory?

The movie affected each of us. One or two dozed. Several left, maybe looking for early lunch, maybe too upset by all of that very real seeming exploding and hacking and burning. I found myself back in a bar in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1975, splitting a pitcher of beer with B, a Navajo code talker during World War II.

B was working with the Linguistics Department at the university. He was also drinking a lot. That was when his battle memories rose up and his stories started flying like bullets. They seemed real enough to wound him again, and part of him even seemed to want that. I hadn’t thought of B in several decades, and there he was, eyes burning with memories that wouldn’t go away. The trail led on to memories of other veterans that made it home from that conflict – JY of the Pacific theater and TH at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. I met them when they were older, with their eyes sometimes burning, sometimes like lead.

R was rapt through it all, quiet, but intense, losing focus on the movie only when pain dissolved his expression.

The movie ended. The lights flipped on, restoring the black plastic-draped windows of the little pharmacy, the chairs and wheelchairs crowded together, the medicine cabinet. R thanked me for showing the movie. Someone wheeled him away, and the others went away as well. I disassembled the equipment for showing the movie, winding up the electrical cords, packing speakers and projector and tripod into my backpack.

As I locked down the wheels of a gurney so I could use it as a ladder to take down the plastic curtain, I heard intermittent wails of pain. They went on as I lowered the curtains and folded them away. Eventually they subsided, and the following silence was rich. I hoisted the pack up onto my back and with a wince settled it into place. A nurse came in.

“Who was wailing?” I asked.

“R. Not so good.”

I nodded. “Will he be okay?”

The nurse looked at me in the way that my question deserved, then said, “Sure. Can you stay for lunch? You’re invited.”

I had a class to teach at Carcel Abra in less than an hour. I was glad. “Can’t. I’ll be back on Tuesday.”

We nodded and went on.

You can check out more stories about Joel’s experience in Bolivia on his blog.