If you read Chaplain Richard Given’s introductions to the 452nd Air Mobility Wing Chaplain Corps team in last month’s Beacons, you would have seen my photo and learned that I was a mechanic in the Marine Corps in the 1980s who returned to service as a chaplain assistant after September 11, 2001.
For a good portion of my life I was a very unlikely candidate for becoming a chaplain assistant. For example, I used to get angry when I saw religious fish symbols on cars because I felt as if I were being preached to by a bumper sticker.
So what happened? As is the plot in many movies and books, life was beating me up a bit. But, having been a Marine I learned to take most hardships and life struggles in stride.
Then one day my co-worker and close friend called me up out of the blue and told me that her beautiful son had committed suicide. That is a senseless tragedy that somehow one must grasp. A short time later, another co-worker lost her son, a passenger of an erratic driver on Grad Night. Yes, the sudden loss of my friends’ sons had me thinking about life and death. But, it was their funerals that I attended which had a profound impact on me, and helped to drastically change my attitude toward faith.
My two friends had two very different funerals for their sons. One was at a mortuary with no music or prayer that I can remember, just fond memories from young friends sprinkled with odd talk about a fringe culture.
The other funeral took place at a church, had beautiful music, prayer and affectionate memories from the young folks. It was also laced with their culture, but seemed much healthier.
Both moms suffered a sudden and traumatic loss, yet the mom who embraced her faith appeared to me to heal at a drastically different pace, and fare much better than the other mom did.
Although this happened a long time ago, and at the time, I did not understand that I was observing resiliency, the ability to bounce back, I had come to the personal conclusion that faith was a vital component and that perhaps it could even save lives.
There is it, my long and winding path to a career field that is not just about religious freedom, but also about helping to provide tools for resiliency, a listening ear, and the many benefits of having faith.