Mojo loves stories. He particularly likes stories about human beings; he is still trying to figure us out. Each December I share a Christmas story with him. Some readers might remember last year when I shared with Mojo the sad story of escorting the body of a young officer who had died in Viet Nam home at Christmastime. It was years ago, but ever fresh in my mind. This year Mojo settled in with his hot chocolate (he is convinced that the idea that chocolate is bad for dogs is a conspiracy to deprive dogs of the opportunity to sample this wonderful treat). I told him of another Christmas connected with my military service.
I was a young infantry officer assigned to a unit that patrolled the DMZ in Korea. Our base was in a valley behind the Zone. Our battalion, the brigade headquarters and support units lived in Blue Lancer Valley (named for a British unit that first stayed there when the Korean War was hot and heavy). A thousand soldiers lived in Quonset huts (those round metal structures that you can still get as surplus) placed up and down the sides of the valley. A road split the valley. Along the road were various buildings. One of those buildings was a small chapel. I confess that I didn’t attend too many chapel services.
However, on Christmas Eve I found myself walking down to the chapel for a candlelight service. Partying was going full blast in all the company areas up and down the sides of the Valley. Laughter, shouting, music … My hunch was that my men had something other than water in their canteens.
In the chapel a small group of soldiers was supplemented by Koreans from the small village outside the gates of the base. The pastor from the little Korean church in the village and our chaplain led worship. The service was in both Korean and English. After the lessons, carols and reading from Scripture, the lights in the chapel were turned out and we lit candles. We left the chapel with our candles lit singing “Silent Night, Holy Night”.
The group paused for a moment outside the chapel and prepared to blow out the candles. And then someone heard singing from high in the valley. Some of the soldiers above were joining in the carol. We looked. The lights in their area had been turned off and they were holding up what seemed to be either flashlights or lighters. Other groups in the valley joined in. Soon, the valley was dark except for pin points of light. A thousand voices were singing, “Silent Night, Holy Night, All Is Calm, All Is Bright …” My hunch is that probably even security guarding the base was joining in.
I turned to Mojo. “Friend, my hope for you and me, our family and our readers is that somehow, in some way, the Spirit of God will break into all of our lives this Christmastime, even in the most unexpected places.”
The Rev. Dr. Jim Watkins and Mojo
New England’s Mayberry
I raised my children in Newtown, Connecticut. My son and his family live there. My six-year-old grandson lost friends and teammates on Friday and his older sisters have friends who lost siblings. My heart is broken for them, my family, Newtown and this country where senseless violence had become part of the daily conversation.
I used to call Newtown "Brigadoon without the music, the town that time forgot.” The atmosphere there is, indeed, a walk back in time. It is a New England Mayberry full of special holiday celebrations and events. Homemade ice cream at farm stores, sprawling parades, tree lightings, benefit dance recitals, pancake breakfasts and lobster fests make small town magic here. It's where you want to live if you have young children. If it takes a village to raise a child, this is the village where you want to live.
And this will be the village to heal them — the children, the parents and the devastated townspeople. The broken hearts of the world are with them.
Time for discussions
There are two words that many citizens of South Carolina do not want to discuss. “Gun Control.”
These two words are like poison to the South Carolinians who cherish citizen rights and who will defend this constitutional right to the end. South Carolina, a state that seceded from the union to defend the rights and liberties of its citizens. These strong feelings still exist in South Carolina today. However, the reality is how many shooting incidents will it take for us to have a conversation, that too many people have died needlessly from guns?
The incident in Connecticut is the latest in a long list of shootings where innocent people have perished at the end of a gun barrel. The incidents reported seem so far away, Columbine High School where 15 people died or Aurora, Colorado 1,700 miles away where 12 die and 58 are injured in a movie theater. They are not here, they're not Georgetown. These are places where Brian Williams or Diane Sawyer report tragedy from many miles away, Connecticut is 800 miles away, so far, far away from Georgetown. These are remote places only seen on TV. It could never happen here.
So how would you feel if it did happen here? How grief stricken would we feel if Georgetown was the next victim on television? Is it that much of a reach that Georgetown is so much different from a sleepy town in Connecticut or Colorado? What if 20 little children were killed in our sleepy little town?
Imagine if a troubled individual walked into Maryville Elementary School with an AR-15 assault rifle with a 30-round magazine and evil in his heart and headed toward the kindergarten class? How would you feel if your son or daughter were killed, shot in the chest? What if it was your niece? Imagine having to identify the body of your grandchild. How would you feel if your wife, the teacher was shot in the head never to walk in the front door again. Would it seem so far away then? Would the right to bear arms seem so important then? If you could never hug your child again, or see them grow up, or attend their wedding? Would you defend your gun rights, or trade them for one more minute of laughter with your dead child?
There is no easy answer. The rights of citizens are fundamental in the United States, but so is the right to life and the pursuit of happiness of a school child. There are many, many guns in private hands, I myself am a gun owner. There are some sane, rational, common sense discussions that should take place to stop the madness. A start may be assault weapons with large round magazines. Do sportsmen really need magazines with 30 rounds to shoot a deer? Do private citizens need high-powered rifles and bullets designed to pierce armor in a war campaign? Can we have better background checks to screen out mentally troubled individuals from getting guns?
There are no easy solutions to this murder. The rights and opinions on both sides will be strong indeed.
There are many valid reasons for Americans to have unlimited gun rights, but when we bury 20 precious children just days before Christmas, those reasons don't seem so valid anymore.
God bless the little ones.
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