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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Angels in the Dark

Sometimes you just need to believe in something.
The saying “there are no atheists in the foxholes,” may be, for the most part, true. I know it because military experience led me to conclusions and connections, which I otherwise would never have made.

In today’s world, we are constantly being hammered down by dark happenings in our world and our country. We are faced with the hard truth, so frequently that we harden our hearts just to make it through the day. If we have good dreams, it is cause for celebration. After all, our days lately are like an acid ocean, their burning tides eroding the peace of our very souls.

But someone once said to me there are bad things in the world which we cannot see. Some African tribes call these bad things Shetani. Other cultures in other times had different names for them, but they all believed them to be dangerous, dark and evil. Of course, if you believe in such things, you likely believe in the opposite – that the balance is maintained by beings, which represent all, which is good and bright.

Before 1993 I would have shrugged all of this off. But by the time it was 1993, I had been in Africa for some time, driving the streets of Mogadishu and the surrounding countryside. I was a driver or a gunner most of the time, and no one of any importance. My friend, Al, was a U.S. Army enlisted guy. We swapped positions on the vehicle often – but always rode together. You just develop a trust with certain people. You just know that if the chips are down, they will have your back.

The chips weren’t looking too good one evening in a town called Afgooye. Our convoy had got stuck in a back alley late at night. We were boxed in, with high-rise buildings barely visible in the distance, just beyond the light of the street and the vehicles. For a long time, we couldn’t move forward or backward. I was sure this situation was an ambush, so I was scanning the distant high windows for a trace of movement, or the flash of an RPG, which I was sure would destroy the rear vehicle in the convoy and make retreat from the bottleneck impossible. Without night vision or any of the top-notch equipment being fielded today, the situation was similar to one in any conflict since Korea or Vietnam – maybe even WWII. In fact, my weapon had been made in 1971, never fired – and remained in a box until I was deployed to Camp Pendleton and from there became attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary – and the Joint Task Force.

All this was going through my head at the time, as I stood atop that vehicle and eyed those distant windows. That assumption could have been the end of us, because right next to the driver’s window – almost close enough to reach out and touch, was a weathered wooden shutter with peeling turquoise paint. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember suddenly realizing that it was there – suddenly understanding that a grenade flipped into the hummer from that window would accomplish the same ends as an RPG from the high-rises.

And as this dawned on me, the shutter began to slowly open.

The driver, my friend Al, was yelling up to me... “The window – the window!” I got a good sight-picture on the thing and flipped off the safety. I wondered how long I should wait – put my finger on the trigger, searched for any feeling about it all, and realized there was none. Suddenly understood that I was simply going to identify the threat and shoot, just as I had trained to do.

I put a little bit more pressure on the trigger. No nervousness, no nothing. The shutter kept gliding quietly open, but ever-so-slowly. I realized I would have to react very quickly. And as it came completely open, and I recognized that it was a human shape framed in the window, I knew I was prepared to finish it.

You see, for months we had lived amongst the Somalis. We knew the countryside and the people – even some of the language. We understood the mission and had accomplished most of the goals within three weeks of being in-country. By that night, we had been there for several months. Our time had been extended indefinitely.

I can speak for only myself in this, however.

I had long previously lost something important. I can’t put that in words. It simply is what it is. Some of you reading, you may know what I mean. For those of you who don’t, you’re very lucky.

But as I focused on that shape in the window, it seemed to light up. A woman was there, shades of blue light in a haze around her. She could have been Somali, but there was something unusual about her.

You see, I had the muzzle of that weapon sighted in on the center of her chest. We weren’t that far away from each other. She looked directly into my eyes. Al was screaming – “Do you see her? Oh my God, Dave, do you see her?” Her gaze was steady - impossibly so. With a loaded weapon aimed directly at her, she didn’t flinch, duck, yell out or say something harsh and accusing. In fact, she didn’t do anything a normal human would do. I could see her eyes and her face clearly. There was nothing there but compassion. We stared across the barrel of the weapon at each other, with Al still screaming and hitting my legs in the vehicle below.

She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and as the convoy again began to move slowly away, she kept her gaze on me. I watched her until we were out of sight and when the convoy turned around at the base of the road and we came back up and out of that neighborhood, she was no longer there.

But I felt something different. I was different, somehow. Something that I had given up on, or maybe something that I had set down or lost somewhere, had been found and given back to me.

So for those of you out there who need something to believe in; who have walked the dark roads for so long with nothing to give you light and faith and happiness, know this. The vision of that woman was a kind of proof that there is more than just beauty out there – maybe that there is more than darkness and demons looking for us, and maybe that there are some things real and tangible working on our side, and looking after us all.

To this day, and every day for the rest of my life, I have known and will know that I have seen an Angel.

And she offered me forgiveness and peace.

1 comment:

  1. Great story Dave...thank you for sharing and thank you for your service!


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