I was on the corner of Jackson Street in Garry, Indiana. I saw the small white-sided house with the black singled roof where Michael Jackson was born. A group of us stopped by on our way to a music ministry conference in Chicago. Only a few people were there that morning. The front of the house was piled high with stuffed toys, flowers, balloons, candles, and banners paying homage to a pop star. It was the day before his funeral.
In the last few weeks several Marines gave their lives for our country in Afghanistan. Will the American public respond in the same way leaving candles, flowers, and banners at the homes of these heroes? Will we see their pictures and celebrate their life stories? Where is the balance? These young men gave us everything.
I am reminded of a story from a lecture about Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. (Merton was a 20th century American Catholic writer, poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion writing more than 70 books.) Merton was also on a street corner—4th and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky in 1958. As he was watching all the people bustle around he suddenly felt a deep connection with every single person. Merton wrote in his book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,“. . . I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness… There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” This experience changed Merton’s life. He realized that developing his inner life was not about himself but about others. He saw the unity of humanity and changed his focus to what was going on with human existence concentrating his work on peace and social justice.
Our Marines gave everything knowing it wasn’t about themselves but others. They were selfless for total strangers. What will it take for those strangers to see these Marines shining like the sun?