His name was Lou, but everyone on our listserver called him LocoLou. And he was all right with that ... liked it, in fact.
I never met him, never spoke with him by phone, never saw a picture. But I can see and hear Lou in my mind nonetheless. His voice is low and gravelly. He shaves only when he can't stand his reflection. He owns a single jacket: scuffed black leather with stories attached to each mark. He favors jeans, boots and white T-shirts, barely cooked steak, and women who don't mind an occasional ride on the back of his Harley. And the heart beating under those T-shirts--despite his efforts to prove otherwise--is baby soft, tenderized by the God he met after Vietnam while in a trauma-induced state of craziness.
Lou's not crazy now. In fact, he's quite lucid. We members of the Calvary Chapel Fellowship listserver looked forward to his grizzly posts, because his words never failed to provoke thought and discussion. Sometimes they stirred memory.
For no particular reason at all, Lou wrote a post one day in which he described a trench he'd called home one long morning in Vietnam. The words he spilled onto the screen proved he could recall even now every pebble, groove and divet of that open-air coffin. He put himself there again for our benefit and filled our ears with the sounds of battle, the sounds of a nineteen-year old's heart pounding against his chest. We tasted his fear as he hunkered there trying to force his body into submission so he could obey orders, so he could pull himself out of that hole, stand tall, and advance on the enemy.
"I didn't know I had courage until I found myself flying down the face of that hill," Lou wrote. "And to this day, I can still hear the blood pulsing in my ears as I charged, just as if it were still Christmas day, 1966."
As I read Lou's words, I stood with him in that trench, pulled myself out with my own shaky arms, fortified my fear-wobbled legs and moved to take that first step down the hill. But when he wrote the date, I left him there in Vietnam. Because when I read that date, I knew I had my own hill to return to.
I was five that same Christmas day, and I'd just maneuvered my brand-new bicycle out the back door of our house and around the side gate toward the front yard. New bikes need to be seen, especially by neighbor girls who have been hah-hahing you for months with their own sparkly transportation. The only glitch to my showing-off plan came when I ran out of level front-yard grass. The last ten feet or so of our yard was a hill that led down to the street. There was no moving around that obstacle. I had two choices: I could walk my bike down the slope, or I could ride.
I've revisited that "hill" as an adult. I've driven slow circles past my old house on many occasions, trying to capture a wisp of those long ago days and the family who lived there. And I'm almost embarrassed to call that slight front-yard incline a hill. But measurement taken by adult eyes differs greatly from that of a child's eyes. To my five-year old way of thinking, that slight incline was Mount Challenge.
I almost walked the bike down. Almost. But I sensed that a defining moment had presented itself. I could ride off down the street a little girl, or I could ride off down the street a big girl. And no one but me would know the difference.
I like to think Lou and I conquered our hills at exactly the same moment on that December day. I like to believe that my leg swung up and over my bike seat at the same moment Lou swung his leg up and over the edge of his trench. I like to believe our hearts pounded in tandem and we rode the wind together as we flew past fear.
Here's to courage--and the wars it wins. Here's to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. And here's to all of you standing on the precipice of your own personal hilltop, gathering strength to charge. Whatever mountain you face today, don't give up. Fight the urge to retreat, for victory is closer than you think.
You'll find it just on the other side of the hill.
Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow." ~ Mary Anne Rademacher-Hershey