by William Hale
Clash Daily Contributor
I live in a quiet suburb just outside Atlanta, in a very multi-cultural neighborhood. It’s an older neighborhood with most of the homes built in the mid to late 1960’s. There are a few older houses, but they are the exception and not the norm. Atlanta and the surrounding areas have been razed to the ground twice by enemy forces intent on our destruction. The first time was by General William Tecumseh Sherman, the second was Ted Turner. So, we don’t have a lot of landmarks or older neighborhoods remaining. Liberals and Yankees. Bless their hearts. I reckon they mean well.
One of the houses across the street from me is owned by a French family. They are a nice family with two lovely children and a pesky dog that never seems to be on a leash. While this doesn’t bother me much, it drives my dog, Bravo, bat-crap crazy. Just a few houses down lives an Indian family and, directly across the street from them is a Hispanic family. Let me tell you, the cooking smells coming from that end of the street will put you in a blessed state of olfactory euphoria. Sometimes, I walk a little slower past those houses when I walk Bravo. I guess I’m hoping they might invite me in for dinner. You see, I’m a single, middle-aged curmudgeon with little culinary skills. If I were challenged with “Chef” in a word association test, my response would most likely be “Boy-Ar-Dee.”
A couple of houses west of me, on the opposite side of the street lives a Tibetan family. They painted their house red. Now, their house is brick, so it was already red. It’s just a bit more red. This confuses my former sister-in-law, who lives next door to me. I have to admit, that confusion tickles me a little.
But we’re Americans, so we all came from somewhere else at some point. My grandparents came from Ireland around the turn of the 20th century. They were one of the last boatloads to leave the island before Great Britain put a “For Sale” on it and starting taking bids from Microsoft and Intel. I was told my grandfather came to America because “He had to.” In my family we didn’t call it rebellion. We just called it “Mischief.” We all came from somewhere else, and we all had a reason.
But right across the street from me is a Russian family. There’s a mother, father and daughter, and the daughters two children from her previous marriage, barely school-age. They are polite, clean; they take care of their property and always wave when they see neighbors. Yet, they’re Russians, and for the longest time, to be honest, that aggravated me a little. I’m not perfect. I, like everyone else, has their prejudices. Mine? Russians.
You see, I spent most of the 1980’s, the decade of weird hairstyles and parachute pants, in a remote combat alert site in “West” Germany. For those of you not old enough to remember, Germany used to be divided into two smaller German states – West Germany where they had all the music, great food and delicious beer and East Germany where they complained about and coveted all the music, great food and delicious beer the West Germans were enjoying.
It was the last decade of the Cold War, and President Reagan was determined we were going to achieve victory in that decades-long conflict. So he upped the ante with the Pershing II Missile System.
And this drove the Russians as bat-crap crazy as Bravo when she sees that other dog without a leash.
To make a long story, short – those days were hard; duty was long, arduous and brutal as we matched the Soviets every move on a globe-spanning chessboard that would determine the future of all civilization. You see, even though we were called a “peace-time Army”, those days were anything but peaceful. It was just a different kind of conflict. All of us came back a little “Touched in the head”, as my mom would say. Some of us didn’t come back at all. Under those stressful conditions, suicide was not uncommon, alcoholism was required. Such is the bane of all soldiers from the frigid cold of Trenton to the blistering heat of Fallujah.
So, I came home, had my wild days, married, divorced, found a career, married and divorced again, found a better career, married, and divorced for the last time and settled down with a bat-crap crazy dog. I keep in touch with a good many of my old Army buddies. We talk about kids and jobs, ex-wives and backaches. Rarely do we talk about the “old days.”
As such, for a while I was a little bitter about that whole expedition across the pond. I blamed my bitterness on the Russians. If only they hadn’t embraced the stupid ideas of a fourth rate, 19th century German idiot-philosopher that obviously got most of his ideas from watching ants and drinking whiskey, none of that crap would have ever happened and I could be a little more normal, a little less quiet, a little more emotionally demonstrative. I used to joke that, “Just because we tore down that damned wall, it wasn’t an invitation for all ya’ll to come over here.”
I’m from the south. I say, “Ya’ll.”
And then, suddenly, my neighbors were Russian. I’ve always been polite, but deep inside I was also resentful.
But the Lord works in brilliant, life-changing ways. He’s known for that.
A few days ago, I was late for work. As I was rushing to put Bravo in the car so as to drop her off at doggie day-care, I stopped and looked across the street at my Russian neighbors. The father of the family, I would suspect he was around 60 years old, was meticulously, carefully and honorably raising the flag on his small suburban porch. Not the flag of some far-away land, but the very Stars and Stripes I served. This was a man old enough to remember both Soviet Communism, as well the gangster-ridden aftermath of its defeat. This was a man whose loyalty was to this country and her ideals.
I stared across the street, my heart filled with a hint of shame. Once the flag, Old Glory, was secure, he took a step back, saluted it, looked over at me and, with a smile, waved and went back into his lovely suburban home.
I stood there for a moment. Quiet. I realized the purpose of my own suffering, as well as the suffering of every generation of soldier since the founding of this great experiment. My freedom was secured centuries before my service began. It had simply been my turn to step forward and secure the freedom of others. And that concept went from a nameless, faceless, theoretical “others” to the smiling face of my neighbor.
To me, he was no longer Russian, just as I am no longer Irish. He is an American. His family are all Americans and that makes him much more than just my neighbor. That makes him my countryman.
Welcome home, countryman. I’m always available for dinner.
William Hale is a polymath, a conundrum amongst his friends and coworkers, a man whose interests run contrary to modern stereotypes. William is equally adept at both trapshooting and pastels portraiture, armed defense instruction and Christian philosophy. A veteran of the Cold War who served as a Pershing crew member during very worrisome times, his faith runs deep and his knowledge of history is formidable. This combination gives him an understanding and insight into the intertwined physical and spiritual aspects of life that few understand. His gift is that he has no fear of the evils he perceives and is able to explain the world around him to those who listen.