Night-Whisper | CONNECT |
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 |
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.” NKJV
One of my good friends, founder and director of a multifaceted missions organization, has one long running project whose arms reach out to the street people of his own home city. He spoke to me just lately regarding his concern over the increasing problem and rising percentage of former long term military veterans finding themselves homeless and living on the streets.
There are lots of reasons for homeless veterans but I am sure that one of them, is an inability to cope with life after being removed from an organization with purpose, direction, value and most of all, from such a close comradely fellowship, that only people who have been in the armed forces can fully appreciate. As a former submarine sailor, I testify that you never forget the feeling of being part of a very close knit unit. You rarely find such fellowship outside of the armed forces and so consequently, you do feel the loss of such closeness and unity most profoundly and always pine for its return. In my experience, it is never found in ‘Civvy Street.’ Without some semblance of this manly closeness being found elsewhere, often a black hole of depression and all its consequent ills, forms at the center of an old veterans being, which will eventually suck the life out of him and kill his capacity to hope and cope. Such was the fate of enlisted soldier Voytek, of the Polish 2nd Army Corps, 22nd Transport Division, Artillery Supply Troops.
Voytek, having stood shoulder to shoulder with his comrades at the crucial battle of Monte Casino in Northern Italy, loading trucks with artillery shells while under heavy fire himself, was along with his unit, retired to Scotland after WWII. When the exiled Polish army was demobilised in 1947, Voytek, being Iranian by birth, found it difficult to find a home for himself. As his fellow soldiers disappeared one by one, the loss which Voytek felt was both profound and all consuming, for he pined away over all the lost camaraderie, remembering the marching together, the sleeping under canvas together, the driving together, the fused purpose of being, the happy singing, the smokes around the late night fire, the beer, yes the beer and the accompanying drinking songs and of course, the wrestling. Yes, he was good at the wrestling. So good in fact that he would sometimes take on four of his fellow soldiers at a time! He was rarely beaten then but my, how the mighty had fallen now, for the loneliness that fell upon Voytek after this loss of this fellowship, beat him badly and eventually left him behind bars in Edinburgh, a sulky and sullen old man of a bear, unwilling to venture out in the open for anyone, not even for the children who loved him and called regularly upon him.
Voytek had been with the Polish army since they had found him as a youngster being carried in a sack along the roads and in the mountains of Hamadan, Northern Iran. His mother had been killed by hunters and he had been left to fend for himself, though frankly, had not been doing so good a job if it. The story goes, that the Polish soldiers from the unit had purchased him out of a brown muslin sack, in exchange for a bar of chocolate, a tin of corned beef and a pocket penknife. Once in their company, Voytek was cuddled, loved, adopted and made such a full part of everything the unit did, that he was eventually enlisted! These soldiers treated Voytek like everyone else in the unit and more than anything, they left him feeling part of something, yes, he felt like part of a family! You see Voytek, the old WWII veteran, was a 6ft, 500lb, Iranian brown bear who died alone and depressed in Edinburgh Zoo in 1963.
I was out at the pub with this same Mission Director friend of mine after discussing the homeless situation of veterans. A man sat at the table next to us eating alone. Once he had lubricated his social ineptness with a few beers, he began overtly seeking fellowship with others, waving madly at anyone who passed his table, smiling like a loon, laughing loudly and drawing attention to himself, trying to force a conversation, any conversation, to get an invitation into discussions and depth he could never truly be part of. I have seen this man many times, the nice but freaky bag man, employed as the collector of abandoned shopping trolleys at the local super market. The loneliness of mental illness is as deep and black as it is, long and sad. It was obvious that this man did not even have a memory of close comradely fellowship. He was a veteran of loneliness. Maybe that was a bitter blessing? Maybe not?
Are you lonely tonight? I am so sorry if you are. It is a most terrible position to be in and is in fact, a cosmic condition which we all share and often experience if we allow ourselves to approach the center of our being. You are not alone in this experience my friend. You are not alone.
However, if you long for a closeness and a fellowship of body soul and spirit, that only a band of like-minded brothers or sisters can provide you with, then Christian, the community of saints is the only place this can possibly be cultivated to the depth we so longingly crave. Such communities are often not pretty, and they are very hard work as well but friends, and you are my friends, the true comradery of the real church is all we’ve got, so help us God!
On the morrow then, let us begin this deep cultivation of the spirit ourselves, by becoming a true friend to a few, maybe not so good men in the community of saints, the church of Jesus Christ the Lord. For me thinks that far too many are dying of loneliness behind prison bars, and too many can only count their true friends on one finger a thumb.
Listen: “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24 NKJV
Pray: Lord, thank You for the circle of friends and level of friendship I enjoy. Help me to be a better friend, cultivating the heart and soul of others for their betterment and our mutual closeness. However Lord, please be that friend of mine, deeper than family, firmer than similar souls, stickier than superglue, both on my finger and on my thumb. In Your great name I ask it, amen.
They didn’t tell the truth of his loneliness at the end though 🙁