Friday, August 04, 2017
Morning Thanks--One of his tools
The rusty one is mine. The other one, the one with no rust, the one with his initials--"RVG"--is his. Sometime--who knows when?--he etched those letters in that little monkey wrench, not so much because he didn't want you to have it, but because it was his, and, if you were raised during the Depression, you simply took care of your things because you couldn't just run to the hardware store and buy another. Even though he was basically the only guy whoever spent much time in his machine shed and thus the only one who used the wrench, that blessed tool deserved to be treated for the wonder, for the gift it was.
At 98 years old, my father-in-law, RVG, is approaching the end. We've been praying for him for years in language that has itself gotten old: "Be with him, Lord, strengthen him for the journey." For a decade at least we've simply been assuming his last days were just up the road, but they weren't. Until now.
Now his doctor, a fine man, gracious and thoughtful, says it's true. How long does he have? No one knows, but his defenses are simply worn out and the barbarians at the gate, the bacteria in his bloodstream, are breaking through the lines that have kept him strong, kept him alive. Right now, it's not that nothing works; it's that nothing works well enough to hold off the enemy. Everything is in disrepair, and there are no more tools.
Even though the HBO series Band of Brothers is powerful television, it's still television, not war. The stories it tells don't skimp on trauma: friends--good buddies--suffer bloody deaths in a cause that over time got foggy, "the fog of war," people say. The 101st Airborne drops behind enemy lines on June 6, 1944, spends a bloody winter in the hilly Ardennes, suffers a loss in Holland at a bridge too far, and stumbles on a camp designed by Hitler as his "Final Solution." That's the story line.
Eventually and finally, they're winners. Eventually and finally, they go home, a place that would have felt oddly foreign, I'm sure, if they hadn't dreamed of it every last day and night on the road to Berlin.
It's a stretch to imagine my father-in-law among 'em, an Iowa farm boy who never said much, his hands full of wrenches, his fingernails lined with grease. He and the motor pool inched through Europe a week or two behind the front, behind forces like the 101st, repairing jeeps and trucks, tanks and armor and whatever else needed maintenance. They kept the machinery of war running. The closest he ever came to combat was those moments when the concussion from bombing runs or massive artillery shook the earth under his feet.
But he was there in Europe after Normandy, and what he did with those tools was the everything he gave to his country. Like my own father, when he returned he never gloried in those years he spent in "the service," never decked out his driveway in little American flags, never marched up the street in May, in remembrance. After all, there were other guys who gave far more than he did--that's what he likely thought.
His initials on that little monkey wrench have those war years behind them. The rusty one is mine--no initials. It's probably been left out in the rain a time or two. It's never been where I thought it should be because I didn't leave it where I could find it. To me, tools are just tools.
But there's more to this monkey wrench than meets my eye. Sometime during his life, he scratched his initials right there into the metal. He sat down and did it because it was his station to do that, his mission, his life. This morning, I'm greatly thankful for those shaky initials etched in the steel, those initials and the life they somehow spell.