One of my most enjoyable activities while stationed in France with the US Army in the late 1950’s was participating in a Little Theater group. I played deputy File in “The Rainmaker.” We did so well with that production that we were offered an opportunity to travel to other BASEC Command posts with our next play, “The Hasty Heart.”

This story was set in a British military hospital in the Burmese jungle toward the end of WWII. A group of Allied soldiers had been there long enough to develop a strong bond. They felt challenged when a new patient, a Scot named Lachie, arrived. He seemed to be a picture of health, oblivious to the reality that sudden death from kidney failure loomed over him. The story revolved around the group bonding with Lachie only to have him lash out at them later when he learned he was dying. I played the role of the hospital doctor, Lt. Col. Dunn, who had to tell Lachie the truth about his condition.

Our cast included nine men and a woman who got to know each other as we traveled and worked together. One man especially stands out in my memory. His name was John, and he was an Englishman who fittingly played a British soldier. He told us about being orphaned as a child during the German Blitzkrieg. We felt with him the fear that had surged through his body every time air raid sirens sounded, and the earth quaked under bombardment. John revealed some of the emotional baggage he still carried. He also talked about the positive ways strangers in the shelters helped him cope when his parents died. When I knew him, John was serving in the United States Army to search out who he was and where he “belonged.” It was a search for peace and hope in the “new normal” of the postwar world.

I have traveled to Britain twice in my life. The first time as a GI on leave, short on money, looking for a way to get through five days until my prepaid flight back to France. The challenge was to stretch twenty dollars to cover meals and lodging while I took in the city of London and its culture. On the train from the airport I shared my dilemma with a member of the Scots Guards who gave me tips on places I should see. One of those was Queen Elizabeth’s birthday parade at Buckingham Palace. He also took me with him to the Union Jack, a British serviceman’s club where I got a room with a hot bath and one meal a day for sixty-five cents a night. I learned the Brits have an expression they use when facing a tough challenge. They say, “Press on.”

That phrase seems tailor-made for all of us in these days during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Frequently I have heard references to World War II as people react to the current upheaval that has turned our everyday life upside down. Thankfully, we’re not dodging Blitzkrieg bombs, but we distance ourselves from others, wear face masks, constantly wash our hands, and use sanitizers to prevent the spread of an illness that kills as surely as bombs falling from the sky.

Millions among us have lost jobs and incomes overnight. Businesses have closed from coast to coast, many unable to rebound. Fear is drilled into us daily by non-stop news speculations, and political reactivity. Dedicated health care providers in overcrowded hospitals endure the pressure of long, grueling hours, and constant losses among their patients. Combined with it all is the daily struggle to find essential, but often scarce, supplies. We want to somehow normalize life and feel ourselves standing on solid ground again.

During these months I have thought back to John, a frightened child in a war-torn city, struggling as an adult to make sense out of the imponderable. As a child he learned to “press on.” He was still doing it during our Little Theater days. Nowadays I feel a fresh bond with him as “pressing on” becomes my own reality.

In “The Hasty Heart,” a group of men had their comfort zone threatened by the arrival of a brash Scottish soldier. Tension ensued, then eased, only to be refueled later when he felt the group had betrayed him with false friendship. It was an act of kindness from one of the men, a Burmese native who could not speak English, that softened the Scot’s heart. Somehow that crew pressed on, learning to embrace someone they’d once feared and denied. The play ended with Lachie joining the others in a group photograph, symbolic of the transcendent bond that prevailed despite the pressures threatening to unravel it.

In this day of the COVID-19 virus, we each face the need to “press on,” resisting the corrupting power of fear. We need to bond with each other beyond the level of divisive rhetoric so we can affirm hope through a shared belief that the last word is one of Goodness from the soul of our Creator.

Goodness does prevail. To find it we must, despite all forces to the contrary, grow together in the power of love, trust, faith and hope.

Press on.

Go Forward with Faith


Today would have been my parents’ 85th wedding anniversary. They were married in her parents’ Cincinnati home at 4:30 the afternoon of May 5, 1935. Their entrance into adulthood was marked by the 1929 stock market crash and its aftermath. Although things were tough, they seemed unfazed by it all. Dad was a salesman with no job security, changing employment frequently. Mom was the secretary in a coal company’s local office. They launched their life together with a combined weekly income of thirty-nine dollars.

Following a brief out-of-town visit with his parents, using a borrowed car, Hubert and Mary “came home” to a third-floor apartment accessed by a rickety, self-operated cargo elevator. Ever romantic, Mom called it “Seventh Heaven,” quoting the title of a popular song. As I wrote in my book, “When Love Prevails” (Kindle Books), despite all the uncertainty, “life was new. They could do anything–they had each other. And, so they did, for 64 years until Dad’s death in 1999.

The love my parents shared, and the love of God they came to experience richly, took them through a roller-coaster of ups and downs that stamped their lives with eternal blessings. The Great Depression was a horrendous time in our nation. Somehow it tempered them for what they would endure: World War II, the birth of two handicapped children and the challenges they presented, a physical move to another state, the surgical correction of their daughter’s heart condition, and the founding of a residential school for severely physically handicapped, but mentally alert, young adults. The latter was a positive adaptation to their cerebral palsied son’s extreme challenges. They found deep faith through adversity. It sustained them through an emerging future filled with unknowns.

Today, we are immersed in another time of disruptive uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a time of restricted social interactions, massive job losses, small business vulnerability, and huge health uncertainty. Our inner resources and outward responses seem tested to the limit. No one knows how or when this virus will dissipate and the pandemic end. All we know is what exists in our personal reality one moment at a time.

As I write this, background cries abound to end the lock down, reopen businesses, and get things back to “normal.” Contrasted with those cries are the statistics that continue to mount with evolving COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. Nobody knows what “normal” will look like from here forward, but we can know this: the way to go through this time is to move forward with faith. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes offers wisdom that enables us to grasp the uncertainties of life with faith that sustains the soul. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” He goes on to name a world of compromising opposites which, when embraced with faith, bring completeness and blessings. There is balance and healing in his wisdom.

In this time of social and personal turmoil we would do well to move forward, not with fear, but with faith.


Fantasy Squadron


As Veteran’s Day approaches, I remember my late “Uncle Shorty.” When the United States entered World War II, he answered his country’s call to military service. After basic training, the Army sent him to Officer’s Candidate School. Ninety days later he emerged as a second lieutenant preparing to ship out to the Pacific where he would lead an infantry platoon into some zone of hell he had yet to imagine.

Just as he stepped off the gangplank onto a troopship, he received new orders to report to the Pentagon where he spent the rest of the war writing training manuals. He finished with the rank of captain. I had another uncle who fought in North Africa, and another who served in the merchant marine service, but I didn’t see them much. Uncle Shorty was more visible because he served in the States and came home on furlough frequently.

So, Uncle Shorty wasn’t a war hero–but he was my hero. When I asked what he was doing to win the war, he would tell me he was “squirting ink” at the enemy. I was only eight when the war ended, so my imagination was fired up about what he must have been doing. By the way, his name wasn’t really “Shorty”–it was Elmer, after his father, but he didn’t like that name, so he went by “Bud.” I called him Uncle Shorty because he always called me “Shorty.” It was just a little transfer of identity between us.

After the war, many kid’s dads in my Cincinnati neighborhood came home and gave some of their military paraphernalia, such as sergeant’s stripes or a lieutenant’s bar, to their kids. During recess at Clifton School, we boys would spread our arms as though wings of an airplane, then run around the schoolyard like a fantasy squadron in combat. We would say “rat-a-tat-tat” in pretend dog fights shooting each other down. The kid whose dad had the highest rank was the squadron leader.

Now, my dad wasn’t in the military during the war. He was a supervisor on an assembly line at the Curtiss-Wright aircraft plant. We lived in Blue Ash just outside Cincinnati where there was a small airport whose runway ended behind our house.

I recall the scream when one of the Helldivers did demonstration dives at the airport, and another time when they brought in a B-25 bomber for a demonstration. It seemed like the pilot taxied almost into our back yard, then turned the plane, held it with his brakes while revving the engines to full throttle before thundering down the runway and into the air. I can still remember how the ground shook with the vibration of those revved-up twin engines.

By the time the war ended, we had moved back into the city, which is how I came to attend Clifton School. I soon found I had a problem with the squadrons in the schoolyard. Since my dad hadn’t been in the military, I had no rank insignia, so I was excluded from the flying aces during recess–that is until I talked to Uncle Shorty. Being a pretty quick study, he picked up on the problem right away.

Soon afterward he sent me a gift, an Army garrison cap with captain’s bars. Wearing that insignia on the school playground the next day gave me a chance to lead a fantasy squadron of my own.


Rainy Day Dominoes


It was raining yesterday morning when my wife  and I left the house for our round of Saturday errands.  We decided to stop at a doughnut shop.  After being served we took our sugary treats and coffee to a table where we settled into reading the newspaper.  In the background were the sounds of the bustling enterprise, and the conversations of families with children.  

Putting down a section of the paper I looked up to see a couple at the next table engaged in a game of dominoes.  As I watched, their interactions took me back seventy or so years to domino games with my Grandpa Harris.  He had a Double Nine set and always seemed ready to challenge me to a few matches whenever I visited.    

At the time, we lived in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati.  Grandpa and Grandma Harris lived fifty miles east at Mowrystown.  He had a 16-acre farm where he rented out land to neighbors for grazing or raising crops.  He also kept some chickens and a milk cow, and had a pond where he taught me to fish.  A field behind the barn was perfect for flying kites on windy days.  

Several summers my folks dropped me off for a two-week “vacation” there.  I spent hours of free-range imagination time on a swing grandpa put on the branch of a large tree outside the kitchen.  We fished with a bamboo pole he made for me.  Sometimes we went shopping or took a picnic lunch and visited the Native American burial mounds.  But the thing I always enjoyed most were the domino games.

We’d start out vying for who had the highest number of dots on a single tile in order to go first.  We built roadways of linking numbers across the table, always looking for the double nine and a chance to play it.  We laughed at each other when we had no usable tiles and had to raid the “bone pile.”  It was fun.  I never tired of it, and it seemed, neither did he.

All of this came back to me in the doughnut shop Saturday.  It was obvious from their conversation that the man was playing dominoes with his grandmother.  In our hurried world, it seems rare to find someone unhurriedly and gently nurturing a caring relationship with a simple game at a table.  The rain poured outside, but the sun shone inside.

I spoke to the couple, “Would you mind if I take your picture?”

“No, go ahead.”

I did, and then asked if they would mind me sharing it on Facebook.

He said “No.”

Soon after that we gathered our papers and got up to leave.  I thanked them for sharing a little of their world with us.  He looked up and smiled…Grandma matched her six to the six on one of his tiles.  We waved goodbye.

Maybe we could all use a few more rainy day domino moments in our busy lives.



Clouds of Confusion


Sometimes I feel bombarded by clouds of confusion that masquerade as communication.  It happens on those morning talk shows where co-hosts engage each other or guests in trivialities with increasing volume.  One speaks, the other interrupts to shift the focus, two or more people talking past each other.  Sound bullets fly randomly through the airwaves, striking unknown listener targets. 

I recall a live fire exercise during my army basic training.   Walking through a field with loaded M-1 rifles (I know, I’m an old guy!)  we were to fire at pop up targets when they appeared.  On one occasion a  guy behind me fired without a clear view of the target.  I actually heard the bullet whiz past my helmet.  The training sergeant chewed him out and a moment of confusion became an occasion for clarification.

Sometimes our words are like that bullet, flying right past someone’s ear.  Words aimed for effect, not connection.  Sound bytes rather than discourse.  One-up-manship.  Nobody listening.  Nobody framing fresh insights from cognitive clarity.  Perhaps this is the new normal for conversation.  We talk past each other.  We listen only to ourselves and our own thoughts.  We trade words and miss relationships.

For several years my wife and I have enjoyed Saturday breakfast at a local fast food restaurant.  We take our newspaper and read it while we eat.  Recent renovations resulted in digital kiosks where the staff prefers customers place their orders.  I tried it once, but found I still had to get in line at the counter to pay with cash.  So, I still go to the counter to place my order.

One Saturday when I stepped up it felt like the clerk dismissed my words.  She pointed to the kiosk.  “You can order over there.”

I replied, “Actually, I’d rather…”

“I can show you how to use it.”

I began to explain why I preferred ordering at the counter.  Mid-sentence she broke in, “It will take your card.”

“I understand that, but….”

Impatiently she interrupted again.  “It’ll take your debit card.”

Now I was the one getting impatient.  “Look, I just want to place my order here.”

With an exasperated expression she said,  “So, what do you want?” 

She entered my order in the computer.  I handed her the cash, and she gave me my receipt and a placard with a number on it.  “Put this on the table.  We’ll bring it to you.”

I went to the table and began reading the newspaper.  In the background I heard various numbers called as they brought orders out.   Suddenly I realized we should have been served by now, so I went back to the counter.

“Excuse me, can you check on my order?”

With a blank expression and flat tone she said, “You’ll have to get in line, Sir.”

I dutifully worked my way back up to the counter and handed her my receipt.  She took it, disappeared for several minutes, then returned.  “Your order was served.”

“I’m sorry, but it wasn’t.”

With a sigh, “They brought it out and called your number, but you didn’t respond.  They thought you’d left.”

“Perhaps I didn’t hear it then, but the placard was on the table in plain…”

“Your order was served,” she said, looking past me to the next customer.’

“May I speak to your manager?”

She abruptly left the register and returned saying, “What did you order?  We’ll do it over.”

I told her and she replaced the order, got it filled and handed it to me on a tray.  When I got to the table my wife noticed one of her items was missing.  Reluctantly I returned to the clerk who was methodically directing customers to the kiosks.  She gave me a bored look, then went and got the item.  As I took it back to the table another server approached, handing me a tray with the same thing.”

I smiled and pointed to my tray.  “Thanks, but we have everything now.”

Looking past me she said, “This is yours.”

“But I already have my order.”

“We owe you this because you didn’t get your order.”

And so it went.

Sometimes I find a lot of conversations going this way.  It’s like we’ve become a computer-programmed population of people who no longer connect brain with tongue.  We rattle off our word bullets randomly, primed by programmed responses, never connecting.  Then I wonder, is anybody really listening?  Do we ever really hear each other?

Perhaps the problem is that we’ve allowed ourselves to be programmed into the stratosphere of digital responses.  Desensitized, we’ve become lost in clouds of confusion.   I wish sarge was here…maybe he could restore some clarity.