Encouragement for life -- from a woman surrounded by it. These excerpts are from Simply Living, a privately syndicated weekly column, dedicated to preserving the joy – and the sanity – of modern family life. If you are interested in publishing Simply Living, please contact Caroline Schermerhorn at: scherm@ee.net.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Hero Worship

I'm driving home from a neighboring city one afternoon last week. The radio carried Mark Schultz's tune, "Letters from War", and the tears were falling so fast, I thought I might have to pull over.
Today however, as I drive home from the cemetery, that soldier finally has a name and a face.
As far as I knew, Clem was just an old priest who lived out his last days in a local nursing home. I had no idea he was a decorated war hero. I don't know if he ever took a bullet for anyone, or if he saved any fellow soldiers from certain capture. But like so many other young men of his time, he volunteered 1944 and crossed overseas to fight a faceless evil for the freedom of a foreign people.
I wish I'd known Father Clem through these young and lively years of his youth. By the time I met him, he was living in a nursing home and coming weekly to Church to serve a daily or weekend Mass. The stroke that had robbed him of his vitality shadowed every tentative, sloping step he took up the altar. The paralyzed muscles in his face denied the rest of us a tender smile or sincere look from this devout priest. Yet, when asked how he must feel about living in this old crippled body he insisted, "This is nothing."
It wasn't until his now that I recognized his heroism.
At his funeral Mass, a black and white photo of one of "our boys" bears the visage of a dashing young man in a World War II uniform. Reverend Clement Benedict Durbin, born July 26, 1924.
So this was the young man who put his life on the line, willing to give his life that others might live. He served in the 79th Infantry Division and came home a decorated war hero.
The monsignor at Mass tells the rest of the story. He speaks of multiple battles where Clem was the last man standing; how he one day looked up to Heaven and prayed, "God, you must have a purpose for my life if you bring me home alive." When Clem came home from World War II, he put the medals away and was joined the priesthood, where he spent the remainder of his 80 years battling for the soul of his country
I think about my two little sons and wonder, how do you raise a hero?
Finally, the casket is rolled to the back of the Church, and the family follows. I can see a shadow of Clem's former life in the family's tall and graceful carraige. When the white pall is lifted from his cakset and replaced by Old Glory, the imagery in my heart is complete. Father Clem has just become my hero.
My boys see the picture of a young Clem at the back of the church. What war was he in, Mommy? I wonder about his mother - with what pride she must have seen his selfless dedication to others. How did she raise this man?
When we arrive at the cemetary, Clement Benedict Durbin's body is officially greeted by a contingent of uniformed American Legion soldiers. They snap to attention as the casket is drawn from the hearse. The respect for this fallen soldier is evident in their eyes.
My boy's eyes also grow wide with admiration. Their young bodies tremble with each loud echo of the fifteen-gun salute. Their natural inclination to love Honor is enlivened when one of those soldiers offers them a shell casing from the salute.
My boys lie in bed tonight. The shell casing has joined their other little treasure of rocks, trading cards, and sports trophies. His picture is tacked to the wall between their crucifix and their soccer pictures.
I'm experiencing an odd mixture of awe and of fear. On one hand, I realize that today, I experienced firsthand the deep abiding joy of a man who fulfilled his life's purpose. On the other hand, I've been left with a deep inspiration to raise my own heroes - and I'm fearful that in the end I'll cave and wish they'd just watch out for themselves.
How does a mother raise a hero? Did Clem's mom spend the days in silent prayer as she went about her daily tasks? Did she have special ways of enlightening her children to the needs around them? Did they give time and attention to those outside of their home who were in obvious need? Or did they simply live in a time that recognized and embraced noble sacrifice?
Did he live in a world where it was easy to be a hero?
I pray tonight for my sons and daughters, that they will be endowed with the means to give of themselves for others' sake. I pray for our world, that it will love and recognize goodness and selflessness. And I pray that I will know how to raise up and let go when my own little heroes are ready to give of themselves.
Father Clem, pray for us.