Cross and Cord

Around my neck I wear a small bronze cross on a brown cord. Every morning I take it from the top dresser drawer, place it around my neck, and say this brief prayer: "May he do no harm and may no harm be done to him."

A few months ago a friend and colleague extended an invitation to attend a celebration for his son. His son had recently graduated from Marine basic training and would be home on leave before continuing on to Iraq. The occasion was to be a graduation and send-off party. My opposition to the war prior to the invasion and occupation of Iraq did not deter my friend from offering the invitation. After all, we are friends. Without hesitation I accepted his invitation to attend.

As the date of the party approached I grew more and more anxious. I struggled with what would be an appropriate gift for the occasion. The day of the celebration arrived and I still had no idea for one. As I walked past a bookcase in our living room I stopped abruptly and without thinking pulled out a finely bound volume. The book, The War Poets, was purchased in a used bookstore the previous spring in Northern Ireland. I took the book and a handmade card as I left for meeting and then to the party.

During worship it became clear to me that the book was not a treasure to adorn a bookcase in my home as I had thought when I discovered it in the Belfast bookstore. Rather, it was to be a gift for a young soldier who in a moment of weakness might find strength in the words of Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, and others. They were men who had viewed soldiering and war devoid of its patriotic and vainglorious veneer. Within the silence I became convinced that it was the gift to be given.

I left meeting and arrived at my friend’s home. I sat in the car for a short time and after considerable angst decided to leave the book and card on the seat. The book was certain to generate controversy. It would ruin the special occasion.

My friend greeted me at the door with surprise and bemusement. It seemed that the celebration had been the night before and I had made an error on my calendar. I was embarrassed, yet frankly relieved. I was warmly invited into his home, introduced to family members, and offered refreshments.

The young soldier, tanned and tattooed, shook my hand. He was informed of the error and laughed with us. We chatted briefly about his boot camp experiences, his plans while home, and his assignment orders. I asked him what he was trained to do as a soldier. He responded that he was a gunner on a Humvee-like vehicle; he sat on the top of the vehicle and operated a 50-caliber machine gun. He further explained that the Geneva Convention outlawed the use of the weapon to target individual combatants. With a touch of bravado he added that the instructor had winked and told them to, "Aim for the belt buckle." I averted my eyes at the comment. My reaction was not out of fear or intimidation, but rather discomfort and sadness. At that moment an inner voice said, "The gift."

A short time later the young man left to visit former classmates and neighbors. My friend and I eventually found our way to another room. The two of us sat and talked for a while. As I prepared to leave I told him about the gift I had for his son. I explained that although I had earlier hesitated to give it, I now was certain that it was to be given. My friend assured me it would not affect our friendship. He would give the book to his son for me. I went out to the car, retrieved the book and card, and left with peace in my heart.

The next day my colleague and friend approached me in the hall. He extended his closed hand. He then opened the hand to reveal a small, bronze cross on a brown cord. He said his son had worn these around his neck during basic training and wanted me to have them as a gift. Each morning I put the gift around my neck and offer a prayer for the young soldier.

I ask that you will join me in prayer each day. Pray for this young soldier and thousands like him. Pray that they will do no harm and that they will not be harmed.