Thursday, October 20, 2005

Just the Gray

One of the 17 soldiers whose hair I cut yesterday sat in my chair and requested, "just the gray". His salt and pepper hair color made that a humorous impossibility. And yet I believe his request sheds light on humanity's general tendency to avoid the unpleasant, the frustrating, the annoying, and the painful. The Apostle Paul admonished us to seek the virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy things of this world--but his statement that he had run a good race and fought the good fight also reveals his tenacity and steadfastness in the face of discomfort and opposition. The current week has been a difficult one for us, for reasons I cannot share (that is, in addition to missing our families and the comfortable stateside lifestyle).

There are a few methods I employ in difficult times to keep myself focused on the task at hand. One is to remember that our response to suffering and defeat helps determine our character and moral strength. Another is to keep in mind that there are people all around who suffer more than I. For example, the third country nationals who sign two-year contracts to do our laundry for about $400 a month, they give up quiet a bit. (Soldiers don't pay for the service, we just drop off our green laundry bag with no more than 20 items in it, and it is ready for us to pick up three days later. This is just one of the services that fall under the defense contract with Kellogg, Browning and Root.) Just as hardships are relative--so are economies and wealth. Many of these workers are Filipino, and my visits with them remind me that hardship is relative. (My ability to speak Tagolog--the primary dialect spoken in the Philippines--is something I've carried with me from my mission to the Philippines from 90-92.) In an effort to provide for their families, these men spend two years washing soldiers' desert worn uniforms; their tours are twice as long as ours, and they have no opportunities to take R&R. They are incredibly polite. They and their families are grateful for the work. The men who replenish our water tanks for showers and clean out our port-a-johns make a little less, and the folks who prepare and serve our food make a little more. All-in-all, I am humbled by the service of those who help make our existence bearable. (The picture above taken by SGT Lee is of me and SSG Mamaril, also Filipino, visiting with Filipinos who do our laundry for us.)

Perhaps even more humbling is the desire of these Filipino workers to care for us, presumably for no other reasons than I speak their language and their cultural hospitality permeates their bones. They are regularly inviting us to visit their living area and join them in a meal. My schedule has allowed me and SGT Lee to accept their offers only twice. (The picture above is of a meal of lechon manok [rotisserie chicken], manudo [beef cuttlings with potatoes], and a garden salad with sweet sauce.) SGT Lee's food preferences are fairly basic, so I must complement him on being a gracious guest. They think of him as the friendly giant.

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