I’m planting a car in my garden to remind me of a mother’s love for her son. My neighbor, Joyce, has a son serving in Iraq right now and she has given me a toy car that holds many memories of their family life when all four of her children were home and raising hell.
Now her son might be providing a bit of relief from hellish circumstances. He is a chaplain overseas and he runs a coffee house for the troops. Coffee is expensive at $5 a pop. And it’s not because it’s a triple mocha latte they’re paying for. Simple pleasures are hard to come by.
I buy nice coffees each week when I go grocery shopping and I rarely think about how lucky I am for that opportunity. This is something I want to change. In planting this toy car, my newest altared space, I’m trying to connect to a life completely outside my experience. I want to remember the life of my friend’s son and thousands of others like him.
One thing I do understand is teenage fun. That’s what Joyce’s kids had in their car growing up. The four of them drove their father’s old car, a dreadful eyesore of a green Maverick. Dad surrendered driving it one night after the dog ate the front seat.
What’s a seat to four kids ready to run into piles of dirt and chase things that move? With four kids collecting misadventures, the green Maverick quickly gained a reputation. Then one summer at art camp the hideous green was covered with splatter paint a la Jackson Pollock. Ugly inside and out seemed to be just the glue to bond four siblings together.
I had plenty of siblings but was not raised in a military family. I think there is a culture in military families that helps them understand and prepare for the sacrifices they may face. Maybe I’m wrong. I have a brother who went against the grain of our family and is in the Navy and only now in my 40’s do I begin to understand how different his life has been from my own.
I want to remember that every single soldier over there has a history as colorful as this splattered car. They lived a high school life full of adventures and misadventures. Now they are sleeping in a place where, when they wake up, there is not even a prayer of Starbucks to sip. And that’s the least of their worries.
But it’s something I can relate to. I relate to it because here the caffeinated beverage is so omnipresent. I can’t wrap my mind around what’s it’s like to have mortar falling just outside my compound. I can’t relate to the fear of driving places and worrying that I might hit a landmine.
These things are so far outside my experience that it feels like a videogame. I don’t want to admit this. I want to be more compassionate. But I’ve simply never experienced anything remotely like the desert in Iraq or Afghanistan. I’ve never feared for my life. I can’t pretend to understand.
So I won’t try. I will begin where I live: my life without coffee. It seems a petty way to understand a soldier’s plight. But I must begin where I will feel the connect. Sorry for my small mindedness: I wouldn’t want to live without coffee.
Understanding that tiny depravation, I begin to glimpse the enormity of sacrifice our soldiers undertake. When the lack of a daily cup of coffee is the least of their concerns, I realize I need to be aware.
Joyce’s son and so many like him are people like me. They are people who, just a couple years ago, spent their month of May getting ready for prom like my 17 year old daughter or trying to break the 6-minute mile like my 13 year old son. They are not strangers.
Altared spaces fill my life to remind me to be more present. They remind me to wake up to the life I want to be living. The only way I can live in a more peaceful world is to truly awaken to the cost of war.
This is my intention. One coffee at a time.
If you would like to contribute to the coffee fund established by Joyce’s son, you can mail your tax-deductible check to Mesa View Bible Church who is acting as a clearing house stateside for soldiers serving overseas.
What cups of coffee do you notice that help you think of people in different circumstances? Are there simple pleasures you take for granted that others live without? Is there a small thing in your day that, when contemplated, would help make for a more peaceful world?