Courage and Comfort – by Gary Smith

Courage and Comfort

“I believe prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening to God!”

I’ll be sharing with you this and other selected Quotable Quotes that I’ve found worthy during the past twenty years and, now integral to two stories – one a story told; the second a story learned.

First, a thought-piece as I remembered it told here (June 23, 2019), bears repeating, because it is the message that prompted me to write this address:

A little girl was busily drawing a picture, when her teacher asked her, “What are you drawing?”

The little girl answered, “God.”

The teacher responded, cautiously, “But, nobody knows what God looks like.” “Just wait ’til I’m finished.”

“A young man, Mannie (he didn’t feel worthy of ‘Emmanuel’) was pedalling his mountain bike along the verge of a narrow country road, wanting to improve his self-image, when passed at speed by a car that immediately left the road and, crashed upon encountering a heavy lorry. He dropped his bike and ran to the car; there was a strong smell of petrol and, he heard a child screaming in the back; he wrenched open the door, released her harness and pulled her free, then ran to put some space between the car and his burden.

Young Karen calmed and quieted, and took a firm hold of her rescuer’s neck with both arms and, buried her face in the space under his chin. Reaching a grassy bank, he sank to the ground, the child still clinging to his neck beneath him.

Karen’s mother was released from the front passenger seat by the trucker who carried her towards her child, and screamed, “You pervert! What do you think you’re doing? Let her go!” She was way beyond reason already, angry at her husband and the lorry driver and, grabbed Karen and dragged her away from Mannie, breaking the child’s grip on his neck. The child, aware only of the sudden, rough attack on her comfort, burst into tears.

At the mother’s rebuke, while the accident was traumatic all round, there was no apparent reason for Mannie to retreat into, well, catatonia … but he did.

Emergency Services responded to the accident, took photos and statements, and removed the driver’s body. All was attended to … except Mannie, curled up in the grass, to be cared for by the ambulance personnel.

Mannie was assessed and, eventually placed in a private psychiatric clinic, where he did not utter a word or, look at his questioners.

The child, Karen became very quiet and withdrawn, and remained so for months. Only, at the funeral for the deceased father, did Karen whisper to the Vicar, “Pway for Mister Cuddles.”

18 months later, Karen was walking, listlessly with her mother when she pulled her, urgently toward a church doorway. Karen detached her hand and, walked purposefully down the centre aisle. She reached the altar-rail and knelt, looking up at the cross on the altar and, began praying. She then stood and, trotted over to the Vicar she then recognized.

“The nice man I was just talking to, said you’d help me find Mr. Cuddles,” she told the Vicar, who asked,

“Did he tell you his name?” “No, but he knew my name.”

She took the Vicar’s hand and they walked up to the altar-rail and knelt there, where a Presence attended the Vicar, telling her where ‘Mr. Cuddles’ was, and saying, “You need to take them to see Emmanuel.”

The child said, “He was here again. He touched your shoulder.”

The three: mother, child and the Vicar, travelled to the private clinic, where they were shown to a room. Karen took off, across the room to a young man that the others didn’t recognise, sitting passively, eyes focused on something a long way outside the windows. She climbed up into his lap and, wrapped her arms round his neck. When he didn’t move or speak, she rocked back to look at his face.

“Mr. Cuddles? Remember me?”

No response. She turned and looked at the Vicar. “I think he needs for you to pray for him.”

“I think he needs you to pray for him,” the Vicar said, “but I’ll pray too, if you like.”

“Yes please. Stand behind him, please…”

When the Vicar was in position, hands on the young man’s head, the little girl looked up at her for several seconds, then, nodded and placed her little hands each side of his face. Looking straight into the Vicar’s eyes, she said, “Mr. Jesus, will you help my friend and make him well, please?”

The Vicar wasn’t expecting to feel the heat in her hands that sometimes, happened when she prayed for someone; she hadn’t thought or said a thing, and yet…

“My hands are hot!” Karen squeaked in surprise, but kept her hands on his face.

The young man went limp and, his eyes shut. “Mr. Cuddles?” Karen’s voice was a croon.

His eyes opened and, widened as he saw the little blonde girl-child, who beamed at him and, wrapped her arms round his neck again. His own arms reflexively wrapped round her. He turned his head to see the mother. His arms fell away and fear showed on his face.

“Mr. Cuddles,” Karen said in his ear, “it’s okay, really. She isn’t angry anymore. ” She turned to look at her mother, “Are you, Mummy?”

“No, Sweetheart, I’m not.”

Now, imagine a moment 60 years after the end of World War II in Europe:

A Holocaust survivor dies of old age and goes to Heaven, and tells God a Holocaust joke.

God says, “That’s not funny.”

The survivor says, “I guess you had to be there.”

It’s a double entendre; not meant to be funny. I tell you this because it’s a question raised by peoples the World over, in the face of subservience or genocide. “Was God there, with us?” “Am I here with God?” “Is our faith enough to ease us through this pain?” “Am I just a believer in orderly, scheduled ritual?”

“In matters that impact faith, you aren’t supposed to ‘know’. It wouldn’t require faith if you ‘knew’.”

The Nazi’s of Germany didn’t invent the concentration camp … they just made it more efficient, including records up to a point. Between 1933 and 1941, they already detained ‘For their own Protection’ approximately 165,000 German Communists, Jehovah’s Witness believers, Roma gypsy, or homosexual lifestyle, for political reasons, or otherwise ‘undesirable’.

This was a war in which countless Allied soldiers and Resistance fighters died or were wounded, without knowing that 6 million people, men, women and children, of Jewish faith were being systematically … ‘eliminated’, between 1941 to 1945, in camps or killing centres westward from Russia to France and, north to Norway and Latvia.

Less formal estimates include up to 5 million others, including those already detained plus Russian prisoners of war and, others as ‘criteria’ changed.

My father, Tommy and his older brother by 7 years, Alex joined up in 1940 but only Alex went ‘over there’. Dad served for 25 years as an airframe technician, here and in Europe during the Cold War. I don’t know in which year Alex went to England as a member of two armies: the Salvation Army and the Canadian Army.

He was ‘a cook in the camps’ he once told me, then a young man … nothing more.

Perhaps he didn’t tell his family much more than that, either. I can comprehend the magnitude of feeding 1000 men in all weather, long before the creation of C-rations and contemporary MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat). The ‘kitchen’ had to keep pace with the Battalion, cookery had to be clean and, the soldier had faith that his Sergeant knew where the mess tent was. I thought Alex meant military encampments only, until in 2010, I discovered in my parent’s effects nine personal photos of a concentration camp (name unknown) in the jurisdiction of the 2nd Army, where the detainees were women still surviving Typhus and other illnesses. I choose to believe that Alex prepared meals, for these survivors and not just, the military or emergency personnel who also stayed to help them. About 900,000 souls were found in the various camps, at the end in Europe.

This certainly wasn’t what he or any of the Allied military joined up for and, any doubts about why they or their comrades came home broken, or not at all, must have been eased by the revelation of the horror that greeted them and, that they had put a stop to at the end of the road.

When he did come home in 1946, Alex continued to ‘cook’, for Sunnybrook Hospital and provide comfort to ‘The Vets’, until his retirement; including those young/old men that no one recognised, sitting passively; eyes focused on something a long way outside the windows … that ‘thousand yard stare’.

“I was taught that people, who took risks without fear, were brave. Well, far braver are those that take risks despite their fear. Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

In closing: Each of the major religions is guided by 10 Commandments (or Disciplines); some with more.

Young potential disciples don’t want to hear ‘Thou shalt not’ from anyone, let alone a religion that advocates forgiveness for not keeping their pledge. We must have the answers when they ask ‘Why not?’ or ‘How do I?’ … if they ask at all. The very young know where the kitchen is. As they grow and ‘patrol’ farther with friends, remind them where the kitchen is and welcome them even when they’re late. Soon enough, they will travel further and need to create their own kitchens based on your example.

Jesus gave Christian disciples 1 Commandment (John 13: 34-35, New Living Translation):

’34 Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.

35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.’

Is it any wonder that during over 2000 years CE, Christians have been largely unable to keep even that 1 Commandment?

“God has pretty much a hands-off attitude towards humans. His will is expressed as much in His silence as in His speaking; in His inaction as in His acting. This is His will for you. The only way He could do something about human suffering, disease , inequality, or the environment, is by removing choice from us. You get to choose good or evil and, since you want to have choices … live with the consequences.”

“When in need of comfort, pray the prayer your creator or deity has given you

… whatever His or Her name. Yours may not be the same prayer as any others’ pray but, it and theirs will be received by the one to whom it is addressed.”

Let us pray:

– Gary Smith