Saturday, September 06, 2008

Every day they fought for me

Many things are clearer in retrospect.

Thursday night, I skim listened to Senator McCain's speech. I focused in here and there, noted the themes he was hitting, noted I wasn't interested in focusing on them, then returned my attention to the Sports Illustrated in my hands (a comparatively uninspiring issue, btw).

Then, I subconsciously noticed McCain's tone was becoming more personal and revealing. This was new. I paid closer attention. He was speaking of his captivity.
"They broke me."
Whoa! No one, in my memory, has said such a thing while running for office.

Now near the end of his speech, McCain spoke with sincerity and authenticity. He won me over to the proposition that he will be a sincere leader of our nation, as opposed to merely a calculating one. He'll still be calculating. Yet, not merely. Here's the relevant text:
A lot of prisoners had it worse than I did. I'd been mistreated before, but not as badly as others. I always liked to strut a little after I'd been roughed up to show the other guys I was tough enough to take it. But after I turned down their offer, they worked me over harder than they ever had before. For a long time. And they broke me.

When they brought me back to my cell, I was hurt and ashamed, and I didn't know how I could face my fellow prisoners. The good man in the cell next door, my friend Bob Craner, saved me. Through taps on a wall he told me I had fought as hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back up and fight again for our country and for the men I had the honor to serve with. Because every day they fought for me.

Fight for your comrades, because every day they fight for you.

Here's a thing I learned as an adult, from reading accounts of war, and I'm ashamed I didn't learn it - to a certainty - earlier: Men in combat fight for each other. Period. Full stop.

Combatants are unaware of high falutin concepts. They remain aware of this:

The guy next to me is depending on me. I will not let him down. My buddies are depending on me. I will not let them down.
Many combatants have said this is the only thing they fought for. In the moment, they were conscious of nothing except the need to not fail their buddies. Fred Thompson, speaking on Wednesday night at the RNC, told a story from inside the fire on the U.S.S. Forrestal:

It was a scene of horrible human devastation.

Men sacrificed their lives to save others that day. One kid, who John couldn’t identify because he was burned beyond recognition, called out to John to ask if a certain pilot was OK.

John replied that, yes, he was.

The young sailor said, “Thank God”… and then he died.

In Hanoi, Bob Craner tapped this through John McCain's cell wall:

Get back up and fight again for your country, and fight for the men you serve with, because every day they fight for you.
What is "fight for your comrades?" Where does it come from?

It's a code - which is extremely important. Codes are crucially important.

Yet, at a deeper level: it's a code of love. It is love.

It's love that called to John McCain in a Hanoi cell. It's love that stirred him to get up and fight for his buddies who were every day fighting for him. It's love that stirs men to risk their lives in combat; to leave a protected venue, run into unprotected space, and pull a buddy to safety.

Matthew, Chapter 22:36-39

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
This is the code of love which was buried inside a broken John McCain, and to which Bob Craner called out during painstaking taps on a prison wall. John McCain opened his heart to love.


When you are coaching boys, there's a type of boy: mostly earnest, mostly eager to do right, whom you do not want to further burden with reminders that his teammates are depending on him. He already knows this, and he already holds it in his psyche as a greater burden than you wish it to be. For this boy, you want to help him progress down a road leading to wider, wiser perspective. You want to imbue in him, again and again - for we humans must hear and see things many more times than once: it's how you play the game; it's not the result, but rather the journey; it's how you play the game; it's not the result, but rather the essence of what you bring to the moment. This type of boy might even know or intuit the meaning of essence.

Aside: In the first Dallas Cowboys training camp of Jerry Jones' ownership, Jerry made an impassioned post-practice speech to the team. He compared the Cowboys to Cinderella. As the team strolled towards the locker room, Jimmy Johnson said:

Real nice speech, Jerry. It got me goin', I can tell ya. Problem is, there's not 5 of them sumbitches who ever heard of any damn Cinderella.
There's another type of boy - a little more scattered; a little more interested in the serial tasting of the experiences of life; a little more boyish, maybe - whom you do want to burden with reminders that his teammates are depending on him. This boy will respond to that. He has access to the love in his heart, maybe. Or, he responds to peer pressure, maybe. But he will respond if you remind him: Joey, your teammates are counting on you to do x,y,z. Almost every boy will respond.

If a boy doesn't initially respond, this is a rare instance where higher volume is effective: Joey! Your TEAMMATES are counting on YOU! DO. NOT. LET. THEM. DOWN. The raised volume works, in this rare instance, b/c Joey, in his heart and mind, wants to help his teammates, and knows he needs help snapping out of whatever boyish intrigues have hold of him. Joey wants to do right, knows he needs help, and knows the raised volume is help. B/c Joey buys into it, it is effective.

As in all things: shrewdly pick your spots. The intensified volume is a splash of cold water. It is not background noise.

Keep any shaming tone or scornful tone out of your voice. Your tone is conveying the righteous logic of the message. It is not conveying scorn. Remember "righteous logic" - it will help you set the tone. Some people call this tone "speaking for" something, as opposed to merely speaking. You've done this before, and you know how to do it. The tone is not wimpy. You are not making a plea. You are asserting righteousness in a way which calls out every listener's sense of justice. The proper nonwimpy, nonpleading tone is so righteously appealing that everyone in earshot will naturally desire to embrace it. Or, rather, almost everyone.


Many things are clearer in retrospect.

A couple of days ago, two men who were likely high on drugs broke through a glass front door, into a home, and shoved a shotgun into the face of a housewife. She shoved and wrestled the barrel of the gun away from the direction of her kids bedroom. Her husband made a running tackle into the men. Everyone spilled through the broken door and into the front yard. A scrambling struggle ensued. The husband gained control of the shotgun. The 25 year old man got shot and ran away. The 20 year old man charged directly at the husband, got shot and fell, lunged again at the husband, got shot again, and died soon after.

When that dead man was a boy, I was the assistant coach on his 5th grade football team. It was my first year to coach football. I coached the linemen. He was a lineman.

He had also been in my son's daycare classes for two years. His grandmother taught the class the year before he and my son both began kindergarten. She is a lovely and competent woman. My heart goes out to her.

I learned the story of his death last night - a Friday night. I immediately flashed on: Of course! I could've seen this when he was in 5th grade, had I more life experience then, so as to help me interpret things better. I mean this: the 5th grade boy barely responded to the idea of not letting his teammates down. Of every boy I ever coached, which is a number maybe around or north of 200 boys, in my memory he responded the least to that concept.

Now, such could have been due to a massive case of Attention Deficit Disorder. I do remember him sometimes responding, for fleeting moments, to the call to support his teammates. However, in shockingly short time, he would lose the thread of why he wished to continue supporting his teammates, and he would return to his boyish celebration of things other than football. He did seem to respond, sometimes - maybe a lot of times - with a loving heart. Yet, he could not keep focused on love for more than a few fleeting moments.

For what part I played in failing to help that 5th grade boy, I ask forgiveness.

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