I had a health scare a few weeks ago. It’s the sort of thing that I have been waiting for – waiting for the other shoe to drop, as the saying goes. When you’ve been where I and many of my friends have been, your expectation of your own life expectancy drops dramatically. You don’t expect to really survive the war. When you do, you think about all the things that might kill you later.
It’s actually one of the things that psychologists look for in returning soldiers: that sense that we won’t live long.
For me, it’s been my breathing that concerns me. They’re finding out all sorts of things about what the burn pits did to our lungs while we were in Iraq and Afghanistan, and none of it is good. I was around a lot of burning waste: whether that was “natural” body waste or more man-made waste like plastics. So, any time I hear a wheeze or a whistle when I breathe, it concerns me.
I was at the VA for my yearly physical, which is normally a very rote process. But, as my new provider listened to my lungs, she paused. She told me to take a couple of deep breaths, and then cough. After she finished listening, she said, “You have a crackle.”
A crackle is a big deal. The least that a crackle can signal is pneumonia. It can also signal a whole host of other bad, chronic, sometimes fatal breathing issues.
At 34, a normal person wouldn’t worry about this. But, a 34-year-old who has spent years of his life breathing in some of the worst air on the planet does worry.
Once again, I’m confronted with the fact that I won’t be around forever. But, instead of worrying that it will be a bullet or a bomb that gets me, I’m suddenly concerned that my body is going to betray me – that the final wound that I take from combat will be in the form of COPD or emphysema. And I’m 34.
10 years ago, thoughts of my own mortality would have triggered me agonizing over whether I would go to heaven or hell when I died. But, as I sat considering this a few weeks ago, it was a different thought that came to me.
Have I done enough, Lord? Am I doing enough?
Have I written the right words? Have I been bold enough in my convictions?
Have I helped those in need, or have I turned my face away?
Have I comforted the hurting, or made their pain worse?
Have I loved my own children, my own family, enough? Have I made others feel a part of my family?
The truth is that no number of encouraging words, no amount of affirmation, can ever convince me that I’ve done enough. I feel as though I have just begun to live as the person that I was always meant to be. I feel as though I have finally figured out what it is that I am for, what my purpose really is.
But, what can I do? How can I reaffirm that purpose in a way that, at the end of my life – whether that be tomorrow or in 60 years – I will be able to look at the sum of my deeds and say, “I did the best that I could. I did the most that I could.”
I was 17 when I first heard the hymn, “Here I am, Lord”. It struck a powerful chord in me then, and I have read the story of Isaiah’s response to his vision many, many times since. And, interestingly enough, the Sunday after I got a clean bill of health from the doctor, we sang that hymn that has shaped so much of my Christian experience as an adult.
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.
If there is a God (which I believe that there is), and if He truly does hear His people cry (which I believe that He does), then what other response do I have for the question, “Whom shall I send?”
At the end, it won’t matter if I’ve done “enough” – because I won’t ever believe that it was enough. What will matter to me is if I answered, “Here I am, Lord” every single time.
When the poor are crying.
When the hungry need food.
When the oppressed cry out for liberation.
When the victims of violence cry out for peace.
I will hold them in my heart.
I will go, Lord.
Please, lead me.