“Through these portals pass prospects for America’s finest fighting force –
the United States Marines”
That is the message emblazoned above the famous “Silver Doors” which stand between civilian life and the hope of a military career for Marine recruits. Few if any pass through them without anticipation of a grueling test of stamina and courage, and that’s what they get at the Recruit Depot at Parris Island.
Those who leave wearing their first rank have been broken down and built back up again. They have realized fears they didn’t know they had and observed their own strengths dissolving and evaporating in the glare of life under command.
That should sound familiar to us here in the Abbey. It’s much the same through the doors of a convent, even and especially one that we could leave with just “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest …”. That is a verse from Proverbs 24. The next stanza, verse, 34, says then poverty will come on you like a robber, and scarcity like an armed man. Yikes! We know good and well that there are other poverties than lack of funds, poverty of soul and strength among them.
The true monastic learns to avoid spiritual malaise as certainly as fighting men and women learn to keep themselves watchful, fit, ready, trained, disciplined. We too will have to pass through many tests and stay the course.
I’ve mentioned this in an earlier blog post, but I live near a military facility, and it is something to see how trim and battle-ready our soldiers appear in uniform, and airmen and Air Force Officers always professional and nearly GQ in their blue pants and shirts, but the Marines … you could slice bread on the creases of their pants. Do they ever sit??? What I would give to be able to keep a blouse or a dress as perfectly wrinkle-free as are their shirts and pants, with those tidy ties tucked into their blouse fronts! Their shoes shine like mirrors! I know it shouldn’t matter a jot, but any twenty-year-old man or woman who can shop for bread and milk looking like that … I would trust them to do as they had been trained to do.
Clearly, they don’t get to be lazy, shiftless, or “chill” without permission. They get to be “steadfast, immovable.” They get to be watchful, diligent, always on guard. Before those Class A and B and C, dress and utility uniforms are seen in public, what was once a recruit has become a Soldier, Marine, Airman, Guardsman, or Sailor. They have seen one another fearful, emotional, triumphant, failing, falling, rising, giving up, beginning again. The more elite the command, the more certain it is that breaking points will be discovered. It isn’t enough to want to leave home or find adventure or prove oneself. Devotion and determination, however, are completely useful. Above all, the refusal to quit separates the men from the boys, gender neutral.
There are a few of us who might sign up, if the Corps would accept us. We would slow them down, but, instead … let’s just stop and consider that if we are where we’re supposed to be spiritually, they couldn’t keep up with us, most of them. Let’s move on …
photo by John Kennicutt, by permission, Wikipedia
Drill Instructor, U.S. Marine Corps, Quanico, VA