One little candle

Ed Smith
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I have to confess to being heartsick for much of to-

That must be the very worst kind of sick there is. Worse even than seasickness or migraine sickness or the-night-after-New-Year’s-Eve sickness.

It’s not about things I didn’t know before. I think it’s the impact of seeing so much of it together at one time. The faces of starving children make my heart ache and I wish I were doing more than I am about that unforgivable shame history will carry down through the generations as an indictment of our time.

But today I was heartsick.

I settled down to watch television for a break, and found myself viewing some film of the Second World War. I saw where 12,000 Marines died taking a rock in the Pacific and where probably five times that number of Japanese soldiers died trying to defend it.

When the Allies took the city of Manila from the Japanese, they found 100.000 of its inhabitants dead in the streets. The Allies at the end of the war decided to fire-bomb the German city of Dresden and succeeded in killing an estimated 100,000 civilians. The Americans dropped two bombs on Japan and killed at least another 150,000 and badly injured tens of thousands more.

In numbers, these horrors pale beside the obscenities discovered in the Nazi death camps.

These numbers do not include, of course, the hundreds of thousands killed in combat in Europe or other theatres of war. But these others struck me immediately and severely, and I was reminded of the words of Robert Burns when he wrote:

“Man’s inhumanity to man

Makes countless thousands mourn.”

How can we do these things to each other? Perhaps it’s simply too much testosterone, although that does seem to be an easy answer. Someone has said — many have said — that if the political leaders of the world had been female, far fewer differences would have been settled by war. That may be true, although it wouldn’t explain women such as Golda Meier or Margaret Thatcher, or diplomats such as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who was convinced he had negotiated a lasting peace with Hitler. It took the fighting warrior named Winston Churchill to save us all from that obscenity of a tyranny.

Questions such as this are much too complex to have simple answers. The fact remains that from the day the first caveman picked up a stick and used it to beat an adversary to death, down through crusades and inquisitions and civil wars and world wars, we have heard in almost unbroken tones, “the still sad music of humanity.” (Wordsworth may have been talking more about music than war, but the line from “Tintern Abby” does apply.)

That inhumanity is what made Longfellow cry out in despair in his poem, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”:

“Then in despair I bowed my head,

There is no peace on Earth, I said,

For hate is strong and mocks the song.

Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

And yet …

Like many other people I have to wear a mask over my face connected to a machine that controls my breathing when asleep and eliminates the strain on the heart of sleep apnea. The machine I’ve had for some time developed a problem over the last few weeks in that it has been cutting out several times during the night.

The worst night was Christmas Eve Eve — the night before Christmas Eve, of course — when OH and I got hardly any sleep at all. So, we called the company in Corner Brook with whom we deal and they said they would put a new machine on a courier to us the next day, which was Christmas Eve.

So they did, the very next morning. Later on Christmas Eve, we got a call from the courier driver saying he was at Baie Verte junction and had a parcel for us. Could we come get it because that was as far east as he came. That was practically impossible for us at the time and we talked about it with the driver, although we knew it wasn’t his fault.

He seemed like a nice person and concerned about our problem, especially when 0H mentioned that this would mean another sleepless night for both of us. Then he said that he had to drive east the next day and would deliver the parcel to us. We said that would be wonderful but we did not want him messing up this Christmas Day. His response to that was, “We don’t want Ed missing another night’s sleep, do we? Besides, it’s Christmas.”

Before noon on Christmas Day, a knock came to the door and when we answered it, lo and behold, here was Santa Claus disguised as a driver for Bailey’s Bus Service in Baie Verte. He was on his way to spend Christmas in Miles Cove, he said.

“Go on,” I said in surprise, “my worker/attendant Loretta is from Miles Cove.”

“You don’t say,” he said in equal surprise. “She’s my first cousin!”

Only in Newfoundland, you say.

He was a Loveday and grew up next door to Loretta. Marvelous people from down that way.

Just one little deed of kindness in a world trembling from countless acts of violence and cruelty every day. But it was that kind of thing that prompted Longfellow to end his poem, which turned into a beautiful carol, with:

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail

With peace on Earth, goodwill to men.”

Perhaps you know of similar kindnesses from strangers this Christmas. Write and tell me about it and I’ll tell everyone about the most interesting or significant one I receive in the column. Might even send you a little memento of your story.

“Not all the darkness in the world,” someone wrote, “can put out the light of one little candle.”

Organizations: Bus Service

Geographic location: Pacific, Manila, Dresden Japan Europe Baie Verte Corner Brook Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Just sayin
    January 05, 2014 - 10:48

    Didn't Churchill approve these atrocities of fire bombing you cited, and would have engaged in chemical and biological warfare in WW2, if not countered by others in the war cabinet. Welcome to 2014, the 100 aniverary year of WW1. Didn't our churches encourage the march to arms to our "boys"