So we do not loose heart, though our outer nature is washing away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. – 2 Corinthians 4:16
I had just been through the rudest night of my life. I had been called names I had never heard. My hair had been burr-cut and swept away. All my clothes, money and personal items had been boxed up and mailed home. I had been issued a uniform that could have doubled as a tent and forced to run until I could no longer stand. Then, after finally bunking down, I was yank-dropped from my top bunk at 0200 hours because I was not “sleeping at attention.” Marine Corps boot camp did not make a good first impression.
The next day did not show any signs of improving. Before dawn my unit was up, showered, shaved and dressed; we had dragged our objectioning bodies through a 3-mile run. And finally, at 0500 hours, we were standing in the cold, pre-dawn darkness waiting for our turn to eat. Heavier members of the selected “fat farm” went through the slow line first so that when the little guys, "the mice”, at the end of the line came through, the overweight, fat farmers could scrape all of their starchy pancakes, bread and potatoes onto our plates. As a unit, we then marched to our tables, sat down on the command, “ready, seat!” And, while sitting at attention, ate to the drill instructor’s quick cadence: “1” (which meant fill your fork), “2” (hold it up), “3” (food in mouth), “4” (fork down). At the end of the timed two minutes of cadenced eating, we were again called to attention and marched to the wash rack to clean our trays. On route I was stopped for a brief but painful detour of fifty push-ups. The D.I.’s poignant words were, “Coleman, you…mouse! You didn’t like my…potatoes?” I was marked – he knew my name. It was going to be a long nine weeks.
Time is generally generous to the past. It allows painful events to become enshrined in pseudo-wisdom, sometimes even humor. Yet beneath the surface memory, there is still the past severe events' indelible markings on the inner marrow of the soul. Everyday I would have quit. Every moment I hoped, wished, longed to be somewhere else. With every breath I prayed to be relieved of the burden of the Marine Corps boot camp existence. I could see no value in doing push-ups until I collapsed in the dirt, only to have our D.I. step from one back to the next down the row of energy spent soldiers while cursing our weakness. Nor did the bruising and beating of hand-to-hand combat hold any attraction for me – either as the bruisee or the bruiser. And, being hit in the face with the butt end of an M-14 for not low-crawling through the obstacle course wasn’t my idea of motivation for improvement. It was a long nine weeks. Before they were up, three of our eighty-five recruits had attempted suicide; seventeen had tried to go AWOL and dozens more had sought through one scheme or another to quit. It was not an option. Gradually it dawned on all of us – the only way out was through. We had to endure.
I gained no great lessons that I can pass on from my Marine Corps days. I only gained a clearer vision of my basest self and a deep familiarity with my ability to hurt. Most people quit when they begin to hurt. Since that was not an option, I was forced to move beyond that initial level of pain into a deeper level of endurance. In boot camp I became painfully aware that there is another layer of energy hidden deep within the inner self. A deeply spiritual energy available only to those who are forced by life to reach into their inner soul. And once we tap it, we’re different, changed by the knowledge that whatever life throws at us will not stop us – we can endure. Perhaps this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” (Romans 5:4). Having suffered and endured, hope comes easy for me now because I know that at my inner core there resides a God-given spirit of endurance, and come what will, I can survive.
Prayer: Even the harsh realities have equipped me to better serve you Lord: and so I thank you. Amen.