Thursday, September 8, 2011

Night Route

Night Route

Most of my work is inside buildings with no windows,

walls covered with exposed conduits and ducts. But sometimes I get to work outside, away from machinery and scaffolding. Sometimes my boss assigns me to drive a route that follows the outskirts of the company's property, servicing several stations along the way.

The route is about 24 miles long, roundtrip. The early morning air is fresh and the sun rises with optimism. Wildflowers, sagebrush, meadowlarks, antelope, rabbits, and coyotes can be spotted.

Traveling the route during the day is wonderful, of course, but I think the nighttime has a deeper impact upon me.

Night reduces my world to only what I can see. The closest light is my headlight, showing only the road ahead and a bit of the roadsides to my left and right. I might see a mouse scurry quickly across the pavement. A glance to my left shows the orange and white factory lights of the plant. To my right I can see scattered white lights marking pumphouses and farm buildings. My horizon is marked with a sparse layer of orange and white lights of towns. Rising higher are the red lights of wind turbines, power lines and cell towers.

The further I get from the factory and towns, the more overwhelming becomes the sky above. Light pollution and clouds hinder me from seeing all the stars, but I know they are there.

At night I feel small.

I feel alone. I feel vulnerable. At night it's easy to imagine a cougar stalking me or a rattler coiled to strike. It's easy to imagine stumbling on a rock, falling to the ground, landing on a scorpion or tarantula. It's easy to imagine seeing God, or rather, being seen by God.

For humans, at least for the brand of humans with which I've lived for over fifty years, my family, friends and community, we own what we see. If we can see it, we can buy it or build it or bomb it.

But the darkness of night erodes our human sense of superiority and strength. Night reduces our vision, giving sovereignty over to what we cannot see but what we can imagine. And imaginations can run wild.

It's good to remember that we are dust.

It's good to remember that we are small.

Image courtesy of NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day Collection, "Reflections on the Inner Solar System".

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Safely Home

Safely Home

They are home and they are safe.

Soldiers from Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry, arrived home in Hermiston today. Family and friends and supporters welcomed them into town with a motorcycle escort -- members of local bike groups and police. People with yellow ribbons and flags waved and cheered along Highway 395 as the troops made their way through town. An aerial truck from the Hermiston Fire and Emergency Services department raised a large flag over the entrance to the National Guard Armory.

Reporters from several television stations and local newspapers set up video cameras and interviewed family members and supporters. Mayor Bob Severson handed out small flags to the crowd. Dozens of posters and signs were distributed.

I overheard a bystander relaying a text message from a friend, "They just passed McDonalds!" The armory is about a mile south of the restaurant. Sirens sounded in the distance.

The rumble of motorcycles brought the first cheers from the crowd.

Nearly a dozen bikers, handlebars proudly flying flags, turned off the highway and entered the armory parking lot, parking in a line along the road. Two large busses slowly idled past and the crown broke into cheers, whistles and hurrahs, waving flags and signs. We could see the soldiers inside each bus, only faintly however, because of the tinted windows. Some waved and smiled, but most seemed slightly surprised at the attention.

I knew none of the soldiers.

I knew none of the families of the soldiers. Still, the event grabbed my heart, bringing unexpected emotion. The feeling that overwhelmed me was that of safety. These soldiers are home now, safely. After a year of combat duty in a harsh, foreign country, they are safe.

That's not true, of course.

Safety is mostly an illusion. These soldiers, men and women, although home and with family and friends, still face the same hazards and harm that we all face: unexpected illness, traffic accidents, disappointments in relationships, random violence and theft, not enough money and not enough time.

Those are the ordinary threats to safety that we all face. Members of the military, our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers who return home from combat, face extraordinary difficulties. The sights, sounds and suffering of war -- death and dying -- will never completely disappear or heal. The strict self-control and rule-driven military life has little to do with the commercial, often lazy, often distracted, civilian life into which the soldiers must re-acclimate.

I know none of the soldiers, yet in a sense, I know them all. My son returned from combat duty a few years ago. I know only a small part of what he left behind and what has since changed for him. I've seen only a glimpse of the challenge that it's been to return to "normal" life. The little that I know overwhelms me at times with sadness and regret.

I looked at the faces of the soldiers as they stepped off the bus, carrying duffle bags and wearing packs that appeared to weigh as much as I do. They seemed relaxed and appreciative of the cheering crowd. They smiled and hugged and kissed their families. They were safe...that is, they felt absolutely no need to carry a weapon or scan the horizon for an attack.

But I wonder if their war is truly over.

I am so glad that I was part of the small crowd that welcomed our soldiers home. All political questions and issues fade away in the face of the greater truth: men and women experienced fatigue, separation and violence for the sake of others, and they have returned home safely. I cheered and waved my sign and flag with genuine appreciation and thankfulness. These men and women deserve to be cheered and welcomed home. They deserve to be reunited with family and friends. They deserve recognition and thanks and support and encouragement.

Thank you, soldiers, for serving our country.

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