Tag Archives: soldiers

“Good” life and “good” death

A depiction of the Battle of Agincourt from the early 15th century (Image Source)

Some months ago I contrasted the outlook of St. Therese of Lisieux, and that of St. Josemaria Escriva – the first with her “Little Way” of childlike trust in God, and the latter with his encouragement to strive (“Esto vir – Be a man!”)

Life is not easy, no matter what your path or state. St. Therese’s way seems attractive – it is attractive. Sometimes I wish God would sweep me up in His arms and clean up my overwhelming messes for me while I sleep. At times He does just this. However, sometimes I find myself wishing life would just stop – that the striving could be done. St. Therese, who endured many pains of body and mind, would not advocate that.

I was reminded this week of King Henry’s St. Crispin’s day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V.

[G]entlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks,
That fought with us upon St. Crispin’s day.

Of all the teeming billions of human beings ever created, just a relative handful of us are here, now, living out our brief span, assailed by “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Life is a battle – but I think we are meant to be in it and not out of it – falling down, and getting up again and again as long as we can, until the end.

Lately many have been reading and thinking about Brittany Maynard, the young American woman who chose euthanasia after receiving a fearful medical diagnosis. It was written of her that she “loved life.” That’s just it though – did she love life (not that that is easy) or a limited part of it? Euthanasia means “good death”. What is a good death? What is a good life?

Can you fight like a soldier but have child-like trust? I think, yes. It’s hard to say which part is more difficult.

Adventures in Colorado

Here are some highlights from our Colorado trip so far:

Saturday, June 1
We arrived at the cabin in the Rocky Mountains.  The cabin is very pretty, made of pine logs without and pine boards within.  My northerly-dwelling relatives might be amused at how elated the Louisiana and California cousins were about sledding on a 10′ by 6′ patch of snow they found in the woods.

I thought these were birch at first, but they are aspen.  There are many in the woods around the cabin.

I thought these were birch at first, but they are aspen. There are many in the woods around the cabin.

Sunday, June 2
A number of us went to Mass in a tiny church in a tiny town.  It had a simple interior with a lot of light, and a stained glass window of the Holy Spirit behind the altar.  After Mass we had lunch at a little cafe, then got groceries to bring to the cabin.

Monday, June 3
It was our 7th wedding anniversary.  Michael and I spent the day together in Breckenridge. The city was not what I expected, after seeing the rows of new-looking, many-storied chalet-style buildings from the highway.  As we walked around visiting this place and that, beside the tourist-style stores full of t-shirts and magnets, everything seemed just a little dated and a little worn, but well-kept; and the general feel was of slow-paced friendliness.  We are here in “mud season,” when tourism is low, so maybe things look a little different at the peak times.

Tuesday, June 4
On this day we drove to Cañon City to ride the Royal Gorge Route Railway.  The train went at a slow, ambling pace through the gorge.  Some of the views were spectacular.  The children loved riding on the train.

Tuesday night I discovered that the Louisiana folk were not familiar with Pictionary.  Since a lot of them have a goodly bit of drawing talent, and a lot of creativity, it was fun to introduce them to the game.

Here are some Pictionary drawings by Michael.   Can you guess what they are?

Here are some Pictionary drawings by Michael. Can you guess what they are?

Wednesday, June 5
We went range-shooting in the woods, the two oldest cousins, Michael, my father-in-law, and I.  Hunting is forbidden, but range-shooting is not.  We went in the morning, through the woods to a site my father-in-law had scouted out.  The morning was gorgeous, and after so long in southern California I don’t remember the last time I saw breath hanging in the air, as it did this morning.  I went willingly – I was glad to have this chance to handle the weapons, to learn about them, and how they are used.  I would rather that than simply be afraid.   But I felt nauseated, for a time, as we walked through the trees, thinking about guns and shooting.  The hearing protection gear enabled me to hear the blood pumping in my head, and I thought about soldiers, as I waited for the report from a weapon that can easily sever soul and body.

We shot a Ruger 22 and a Colt 45.  It was a good challenge to aim and hit the target.  I’d like to do it again.

Thursday, June 6
Today Michael and my father-in-law and I set off to attempt to hike to the summit of a 14,000 foot peak.  We made it pretty well above the tree line – my father-in-law estimates that we may have gotten to 13,000 feet.  However, at that point the trails were covered in snow, and the mountain face with lots of loose rock, and we had no climbing gear, so we turned back.  The views were gorgeous and ever-changing; Michael said it was like walking in a painting.  We saw a mule deer, three wolves (away on a hillside) and a little speckled partridge.

This is a ridge between Mt. Sheridan and Mt. Sherman.

This is Mt. Sheridan to the left, and a ridge that connects it to Mt. Sherman to the right.

One more full day to go, then we take off for the great white north.  Well, for Fargo, anyway.

Hope, hard thing!


Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
‘s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather—as skies
Betweenpie mountains—lights a lovely mile.

These lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins, so kindly and calming, are like a balm for a tired soul – particularly the tired soul burdened with a fierce self-directed critical faculty. They come at the very close of his Sonnets of Desolation, or “Terrible Sonnets” – six sonnets which detail inner darkness and turmoil.   Altogether they seem to exemplify what a good friend in college once told me, that peace is sometimes hard-won.

“[W]e. . .exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.”

I was all ears as the lector read this on Sunday, for being of a melancholy turn of mind one virtue I notably lack is hope.  So, to get to hope we start with. . .tribulation?

I took the confirmation name of Joan, for Joan of Arc, because even at sixteen I knew there were battles to be fought and that I needed the courage of a soldier.  And there have been battles, sometimes difficult ones; but I have learned two things, and what a difference the knowledge has made.

One is, that I am not alone.  Across the street, at the park, on the freeway, I am surrounded by brothers and sisters each with their own battles.  I root for them, and it makes the struggle easier, to know that all around me are others who have come from the same beginning and are going to the same end – I hope – and who struggle, sometimes mightily, too.

The other is that we have a captain who has seen every kind of battle fray and over whom no enemy can triumph; and who moreover loves and watches over all of his soldiers and desires that not one should be lost.