Faith and Thought: Returning soldier has much to teach us
Carolyn Raffensperger, Mid-Iowa News
The backbone of the common good is sharing, especially those things that are
part of our public inheritance - air, water, wildlife, parks, the library,
roads and sidewalks - to name a few. Government has a wonderful role serving as
the trustee of the commons and fulfilling our responsibility to pass them on to
If we took the commonwealth and the common health seriously, we might
innovate some leading-edge policies right here in Iowa. Can you imagine appointing a
guardian for future generations in the city council and asking her to assess
the impact of city decisions on generations to come? What would the city
budget look like if we did an audit of the commons and included the audit
information to city residents? Then we could set goals for mending, restoring,
enhancing our public goods.
What if we did an inventory of all the work needed on our streams and
prairies and state parks, for example, and provided a list to Gov. Culver of work
that our Iowa National Guard might do here at home? There is some precedent for
this: Last summer the governor of Montana wrote a letter to President Bush
asking him to send the Montana National Guard home from Iraq so they could help
fight forest fires in Montana.
And speaking of the National Guard, I suspect they have an enormous amount to
teach us about the Wise Warrior, the True Guardian, the Sentinel that
protects the common good for future generations.
Some months ago, I sat next to a young soldier on a flight from Detroit to
Des Moines. He was 22-year-old Army man coming home after two years in Iraq and
Pakistan. He was quite anxious about his return. This was his last leg on a
30-hour trip to Iowa. I was dismayed about sitting next to him since I am a
religious pacifist and was returning from an environmental conference too tired
and grieved myself about the state of the world. How could I open my heart to
this young man?
I began with the chitchat - who would be at the airport to greet him? His
grandparents. Oh, and maybe his ex-girlfriend. Why would his ex-girlfriend be at
the airport? A shrug. I asked if he loved her. His tears rose to the brim and
he said "yes, but it's not manly to say so." I said, "The true warrior, the
wise man, defends what he loves." He started to cry.
From there I asked him what his work was in the Army. His job was to protect
the relief efforts of the earthquake victims in Pakistan. Noble work. He said,
"Yes. But I can't be wrong." Sometimes he had to tell his commanding officer
to kick in a door (implying that there were terrorists jeopardizing the relief
efforts), and he couldn't make the Haditha mistake and have women and
I told him about my life's work as an environmentalist and guardian of future
generations. It was clear that I had a lot to learn from him. He said that he
would have just graduated from Iowa State University if he had not gone into
I asked him what he would be doing if he had graduated. He said, "It would
all be trivial. All trivial. I'd be buying a better car, looking for a job that
would make a lot of money. It's trivial." I told him that's what he, as an
initiated warrior, knew that we did not sitting back home.
That is what he has to teach us.
We spoke quietly and affectionately about what it was to return home as a
warrior to a culture that has no concept of what a true warrior requires from his
culture nor what a healthy culture requires of its warriors. In the end, we
concluded that the great warrior is one who serves as a guardian of what they
The commons are essential to so much that we love - our children's health,
the deer in my backyard, the ability to drive to church on a public road. May we
learn to share and protect these treasures.
Carolyn RaffenspergerPrint Friendly Page
İMid-Iowa Newspapers 2007