Marvin Repinski: Sometimes it’s life in the trenches

Published 5:52 pm Friday, January 21, 2022

Thank God that life is more than the trenches!  But most of us are accustomed to difficulties that were pounded into our heads, and joys that created a trembling throughout our bodies.

A poet that I read as a student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis has inspired me with a renewal of reading his poetry.  We can assume that the life of Robert Graves was scarred, embittered, and filled with a sense of finality when the war in which he was wounded, ended.

In his autobiography, Robert Graves (1895-1985) vividly sketches the horrors of the first World War as seen from the British trenches. He joined the war immediately after it was declared, became a commissioned officer, and served on the Western Front until he was severely wounded at the Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916.  Sent home to recuperate, he returned to the battlefield in early January 1917, but proved physically unable to sustain the rigors of the trenches. He spent the remainder of the war recovering from his wounds. The following passage is taken from his account of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the most murderous battle of the war.

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“… For the next two days, we were in bivouacs outside the woods.  We were in fighting kit and the nights were wet and cold.  I went into the woods to find German overcoats to use as blankets.  Mametz Wood was full of the dead. There was not a single tree in the woods unbroken. I got my greatcoats and came away as quickly as I could, climbing over the wreckage of green branches.”

May we approach the end of the first month of 2022 by fostering a thought that pushes us into a view? Despite a dozen painful, threatening, despicable, world events, and countries with open wounds, a mind given to good is possible.

Is it possible to receive the gift of courage? For these current days in a transition from autumn to cold rain, sleet, ice and snow, let us think of the good and not be challenged by any dark cloud that may appear. Please, please stare down the pessimism; resolve to live out of the optimism that can be a part of a spiritual person. Take a clue from Norman Cousins please, who wrote:

“I’ve learned that next to the atomic bomb, the greatest danger is defeatism, despair, and inadequate awareness of what human beings possess.  I feel that any problem that can be defined, is capable of being resolved.  Out of this has come my conviction that no man knows enough to be a pessimist.”

Can we not agree?  Let us agree that we don’t know enough to be a pessimist.  We do know enough to be an optimist! Blind faith?  No!  Informed faith? Yes!  And part of the strength and growth of an optimistic spirit is to nurture that spirit by a daily intention.

Why is it that a very wise person, George Bernard Shaw, could write such muscular lines? For one thing, he was a person who lived out of his heart.  He was, in some very lively sense, a spiritual person.  Shaw had SOUL; he had a fire in his heart, and with that flame he could live by the following:

“This is the true joy of life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.  I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.  Life is no “brief candle” for me.  It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  (Isaiah 9:2)