Thursday, February 20, 2014

There Are No Secrets

            Alfred put down the phone on his mahogany 19th Century Partner's Library Desk and said, “Well, Mother that is a surprise.”

            “What is it, Alfred?” asked Mother.

            “That was Sergeant Petrovski. He served under my command in Vietnam in 1964. Good man, but a bloody awful war,” said Alfred. “I met him at the Dallas Gun show two years ago, and I said that if he ever needed a job he should look me up.”

            “You’ve never said much about your experiences in Vietnam,” said Mother.

            Alfred reflected for a moment before replying, “I was in the Military Assistance Command, Studies and Observations Group, usually referred to as SOG. Our task was black ops and for a long time we were told not to saying anything about them. Not only that but there are some things that happened that are very difficult to talk about.”

            “I should know, Alfred,” said Mother. “After all I have not been exactly forthcoming about that terrible experience with Paolo Vizzini years ago.” Mother paused then added, “What did happen when you served in Vietnam?”

            Alfred frowned, then picked up his Old Church Bent Billiard pipe, reamed it out, tamped in some Captain Black tobacco, and lit it while he pondered how to answer Mother’s question.

            Mother knew Alfred very well and she sat down on the Chesterfield wing chair in Alfred’s study and picked up a copy of the American Art Review Magazine and thumbed through it looking at some of the pictures.

            Alfred eyed Mother and perceived that she was just going to wait it out for an answer. “You know, Mother,” said Alfred, “I was brought up to believe in the Ten Commandments, particularly in the 6th Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ yet I have, not only once,” he paused, “but many times. It was a tough tour of duty. Not only that I have sent the men under my command to kill and sometimes to be killed. It’s not something I like to think about.”

“Isn’t that why you received the Distinguished Service Cross?” asked Mother.

“Mother, I was good at it,” said Alfred, “and that is a terrible thing to be good at.”

Mother and Alfred sat quietly together for a few minutes. Eventually Mother said, “You were defending our country, Alfred.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Alfred. “It was Vietnam and many people, even some of our soldiers, thought we shouldn’t be there at all. In many ways it was an unpopular war, and the moral issues seem so very complicated.”

“I know, Alfred, I know,” said Mother. “Years ago when my brother Calo said, ‘Don’t worry about it.  You won’t ever have to see Paolo again,’ I was relieved and I felt guilty at the same time.”

“You are right Mother,” said Alfred, “But there are times when we get into difficult situations that are beyond our control.  Then we’re left with our feelings.  I have asked God to forgive me for the things I’ve done, but still sometimes the guilt just comes back.”

“Alfred,” asked Mother, “Isn’t that what the Church Year is about?”

“How so?” asked Alfred.

“Soon it will be Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. That’s a time of Penitence and Forgiveness.  As for me, I could use a little bit of both,” said Mother.

“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”[1 John 1:7-9].   

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