The Four Chaplains

On January 23, 1943, the USAT Dorchester left New York harbor bound for Greenland carrying 902 officers, servicemen and civilian workers. The Dorchester was escorted by three Coast Guard cutters. On February 2, one of the cutters detected the presence of a submarine but failed to find the submarine’s position. The C.O. of the Dorchester ordered the men to sleep in their clothing, with life jackets close at hand. They were only 150 miles from Greenland and daylight would bring air cover from the American base.Four Chaplains

Down in the old converted cruise ship’s stifling hold, four U.S. Army chaplains circulated among the frightened young men, some lying wide-eyed in their bunks, others nervously playing cards or shooting dice. Those chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Reformed. Chatting with the troops, the chaplains eased tensions, calmed fears and passed out soda crackers to alleviate seasickness.

Early in the morning of February 3 the chaplains were still up just before 1:00 when the torpedo struck. The missile exploded in the boiler room, destroying the electric supply and releasing suffocating clouds of steam and ammonia gas. The tremendous explosion threw soldiers from bunks and the lights went out as the stricken ship listed to starboard, sinking fast.

Those not trapped below rushed topside. Amid the shriek of escaping steam and frantic blasts of the ship’s whistle, dazed men stumbled about the dark, crowded decks. Some gripped the rails, too struck with horror to head toward the lifeboats.

The four chaplains quickly moved among the bewildered men, calming them, directing them to life rafts, urging them to escape the doomed ship. Many had forgotten their life jackets. The chaplains located a supply in a deck locker and passed them out. When the bin was empty they pulled off their own and made others put them on.

Only two of the 14 lifeboats were successfully used in abandoning ship. Soldiers leaped into the icy sea. They clutched the gunwales of the two overloaded lifeboats, clung to doughnut-like rafts or floated alone. Some men were insulated by the thick fuel oil that coated them and floated in lifejackets for eight hours.

The four chaplains remained on the ship’s slanted aft deck, standing together, arms linked, heads bowed in prayer, as the Dorchester slipped beneath the waves. Their sacrifice would be remembered as one of the most touching stories of the Second World War, and their legacy continues to this day.

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The Magical Mustard Seed

There is an old Chinese tale about a woman whose only son died. In her grief, she went to the holy man and asked, “What prayers, what magical incantations do you have to bring my son back to life?”

Instead of sending her away or reasoning with her, he said to her, “Fetch me a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow. We will use it to drive the sorrow out of your life.” The woman went off at once in search of that magical mustard seed.

She came first to a splendid mansion, knocked at the door, and said, “I am looking for a home that has never known sorrow. Is this such a place? It is very important to me.”Photo-08-A-woman-knocking-the-door-in-Old-Sana'a

They told her, “You’ve certainly come to the wrong place,” and began to describe all the tragic things that recently had befallen them.

The woman said to herself, “Who is better able to help these poor, unfortunate people than I, who have had misfortune of my own?”

She stayed to comfort them, then went on in search of a home that had never known sorrow. But wherever she turned, in hotels and in other places, she found one tale after another of sadness and misfortune.

The woman became so involved in helping others cope with their sorrows that she eventually let go of her own. She would later come to understand that it was the quest to find the magical mustard seed that drove away her suffering.

Creating Fathers

by Erma Bombeck. 

When the good Lord was creating fathers, He started with a tall frame. A female angel nearby said, “What kind of father is that? If you’re going to make children so close to the ground, why have you put fathers up so high? He won’t be able to shoot marbles without kneeling, tuck a child in bed without bending or even kiss a child without a lot of stooping.

And God smiled and said, “Yes, but if I make him childsize, who would children have to look up to?”

farmer-child-hay-istockAnd when God made a father’s hands, they were large and sinewy. The angel shook her head sadly and said, “Large hands are clumsy. They can’t manage diaper pins, small buttons, rubber bands on ponytails or even remove splinters caused by sticks used as baseball bats.”

And God smiled and said, “I know, but they’re large enough to hold everything a small boy empties from his pockets at the end of a day, yet small enough to cup a child’s face.”

And then God molded long, slim legs and broad shoulders. The angel nearly had a heart attack. “Boy, this is the end of the week, all right,” she clucked. “Do you realize you just made a father without a lap? How is he going to pull a child close to him without the kid falling between his legs?”

And God smiled and said, “A mother needs a lap. A father needs strong shoulders to pull a sled, balance a boy on a bicycle or hold a sleepy head on the way home from the circus.”

God was in the middle of creating two of the largest feet anyone had ever seen when the angel could contain herself no longer. “That’s not fair. Do you honestly think those large boats are going to dig out of bed early in the morning when the baby cries? Or walk through a small birthday party without crushing at least three of the guests?”

And God smiled and said, “They’ll work. You’ll see. They’ll support a small child who wants to ride a horse to Banbury Cross or scare off mice at the summer cabin or display shoes that will be a challenge to fill.”

God worked on, giving the father few words but a firm, authoritative voice and eyes that saw everything but remained calm and tolerant. Finally, almost as an afterthought, He added tears. Then He turned to the angel and said, “Now, are you satisfied that he can love as much as a mother?”

The angel shutteth up ….

Building Bridges

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.

Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work,” he said.

“Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”

“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence – an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place anymore. Cool him down, anyhow.”

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day.

Garden_Bridges_378The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.

About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped.

There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge… a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work handrails and all – and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched.

“You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.

“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but, I have many more bridges to build.”

A Light In the Darkness

The passengers on the bus watched sympathetically as the attractive young woman with the white cane made her way carefully up the steps. She paid the driver, using her hands to feel the location of the seats, walked down the aisle and found the seat he’d told her was empty. Then she settled in, placed her briefcase on her lap and rested her cane against her leg.

 

It had been a year since Susan, thirty-four, became blind. Due to a medical misdiagnosis, she had been rendered sightless, and she was suddenly thrown into a world of darkness, anger, frustration and self-pity. Once a fiercely independent woman, Susan now felt condemned by this terrible twist of fate to become a powerless and helpless burden on everyone around her.

  

“How could this have happened to me?” she would plead, her heart knotted with anger, but no matter how much she cried, protested, ranted or prayed, she knew the painful truth that her sight was never going to return. A cloud of depression hung over Susan’s once optimistic spirit. Just getting through each day was an exercise in frustration and exhaustion. And all she had to cling to was her husband Mark.

  

Mark was an Air Force officer and he loved Susan with all of his heart. When she first lost her sight, he watched her sink into despair and was determined to help his wife gain the strength and confidence she needed to become independent again. Mark’s military background had trained him well to deal with such sensitive situations, and yet he knew this was the most difficult battle he would ever face.

 businesswoman-in-blindfold

Finally, Susan felt ready to return to her job, but how would she get there? She used to take the bus, but was now too frightened to get around the city by herself. Mark volunteered to drive her to and from work each day, even though they worked at opposite ends of the city. At first, this comforted Susan and fulfilled Mark’s need to protect his sightless wife who was so insecure about performing the slightest task. Soon, however, Mark realized that this arrangement wasn’t working, it was hectic and costly. ‘Susan is going to have to start taking the bus again’ he admitted to himself, but just the thought of mentioning it to her made him cringe, she was still so fragile and so angry. ‘How would she react?’ he admitted to himself again.

  

Just as Mark predicted, Susan was horrified at the idea of taking the bus again. “I’m blind!” she responded bitterly “How am I supposed to know where I’m going? I feel like you’re abandoning me”. Mark’s heart broke to hear these words, but he knew what had to be done. He promised Susan that each morning and evening he would ride the bus with her, for as long as it took, until she got the hang of it. And that is exactly what happened. 

For two solid weeks, Mark, military uniform and all, accompanied Susan to and from work each day. He taught her how to rely on her other senses specifically her hearing, how to determine where she was and how to adapt to her new environment. He helped her befriend the bus drivers who could watch out for her, and save her a seat. He made her laugh, even on those not-so-good days when she would trip exiting the bus, or drop her briefcase. Each morning they made the journey together, and Mark would take a cab back to his office. Although this routine was even more costly and exhausting than the previous one, Mark knew it was only a matter of time before Susan would be able to ride the bus on her own. He believed in her, he used to know before she’d lost her sight, who wasn’t afraid of any challenge and who would never, ever quit.

 

Finally, Susan decided that she was ready to try the trip on her own. Monday morning arrived, and before she left, she threw her arms around Mark, her temporary bus riding companion, her husband and her best friend. Her eyes filled with tears of gratitude for his loyalty, his sincerity, his patience and his love. She said good-bye, and for the first time, they went their separate ways. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, each day on her own went perfectly, and Susan had never felt better. She was doing it and she was going to work all by herself.

 

On Friday morning, Susan took the bus to work as usual. As she was paying for her fare to exit the bus, the driver said “Boy, I sure envy you” Susan wasn’t sure if the driver was speaking to her or not. After all, who on earth would ever envy a blind woman who had struggled just to find the courage to live for the past year? Curiously, she asked him “Why do you say that you envy me?” The driver responded “It must feel so good to be taken care of and protected like you are”. Susan had no idea what the driver was talking about, she asked him again “What do you mean?”

 

The driver answered, “You know, every morning for the past week, a fine looking gentleman in a military uniform has been standing across the corner watching you when you get off the bus. He makes sure you cross the street safely and he watches you until you enter your office building. Then he blows you a kiss, gives you a little salute and walks away. You are one lucky lady.”

 

Tears of happiness poured down Susan’s cheeks, for although she couldn’t physically see him, she had always felt Mark’s presence.  She was lucky, for he had given her a gift more powerful than sight. She didn’t need to see to believe. It was a love that brought light where there had been darkness. 

Red Marbles

by W. E. Petersen

One day Mr. Miller was bagging some early potatoes for me. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily apprising a basket of freshly picked green peas.

I paid for my potatoes but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas. I am a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes.

Pondering the peas, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller and  the ragged boy next to me.

“Hello Barry, how are you today?”

“H’lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus’ admirin’ them peas … sure look good.”

“They are good, Barry. How’s your Ma?”

“Fine. Gittin’ stronger alla’ time.”

“Good. Anything I can help you with?”

“No, Sir. Jus’ admirin’ them peas.”

“Would you like to take some home?”

“No, Sir. Got nuthin’ to pay for ’em with.”

“Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?”

“All I got’s my prize marble here.”

“Is that right? Let me see it.”

“Here ’tis. She’s a dandy.”

“I can see that. Hmmmmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort  of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?”

“Not zackley … but almost.”

“Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble.”

“Sure will. Thanks Mr. Miller.”

Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me.  With a smile she said, “There are two other boys like him in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever. When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn’t like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one,  perhaps.”

I left the stand smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time later I moved to Colorado but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering.

Several years went by, each more rapid that the previous one. Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community and while I was there learned that Mr. Miller had died. They were having his viewing that evening and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them.

Upon arrival at the mortuary we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could. Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts … all very professional looking.

They approached Mrs. Miller, standing composed and smiling by her husband’s casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket. Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary awkwardly, wiping his eyes.

Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and mentioned the story she had told me about the marbles. With her eyes glistening, she took my hand and led me to the casket. “Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about. They just told me how they appreciated the things Jim ‘traded’ them. Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size … they came to pay their debt.”Red_Marbles_by_XWAUForceflow

“We’ve never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,” she confided, “but right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho.”

With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath were three exquisitely shined red marbles.

Having Lunch with God

There once was a little boy who wanted to meet God. He knew it was a long trip to where God lived, so he packed his suitcase with Twinkies and a six pack of root beer and he started his journey. When he had gone about three blocks, he met an old man. He was sitting in the park just staring at some pigeons. The boy sat down next to him and opened his suitcase.Pigeons

He was about to take a drink from his root beer when he noticed that the old man looked hungry, so he offered him a Twinkie. He gratefully accepted it and smiled at him. His smile was so incredible that the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered him a root beer. Once again he smiled at him. The boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word.

As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he had gone more than a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the old man and gave him a hug. He gave him the biggest smile ever.

When the boy opened the door to his own house a short time later, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face. She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” He replied, “I had lunch with God.” But before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what? He’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”

Meanwhile, the old man, also radiant with joy, returned to his home. His son was stunned by the look of peace on his face and he asked, “Father, what did you do today that made you so happy?” He replied, “I ate Twinkies in the park with God.” But before his son responded, he added, “You know, he’s much younger than I expected.”