Publication: One-to-One, Autumn 2014
Hurricane Frederic blew into Mobile, Alabama, on September 12, 1979, leaving behind millions of felled trees and billions of dollars’ worth of damage in its wake. One of those trees was an ancient oak that toppled over at the height of the storm and split my Great-Uncle Thompson’s house in half, from the roof down through the floor. The beautiful little wooden cottage was reduced to splinters.
A few days later, we worked together to clean up the yard around the ruins of his house. The day was hot, and, after a while, Uncle Thompson invited me to sit down and sip some ice water with him. He was very fatigued, and I noticed tears in his eyes. Thinking he was sad about losing his house, I said, “It’s going to be OK, Uncle Thompson, we’ll get this place fixed up again in no time.” His eyes were haunted and far away. He sighed deeply.
“It’s not the house,” he said. “The way the house looks now reminded me of something that happened to me back in World War I, and I was just a kid about your age. I had gotten separated from my unit, and we were behind German lines. Night was falling, and I was alone and scared and cold. I saw a bombed out farmhouse nearby and decided to take shelter in it. Just a few walls and part of the roof were still standing.”
I leaned in. I had never heard him speak of this. He continued, “It was very dangerous to be in there, but it was the best thing around, so I laid down on the muddy floor with my back against the wall and dozed off. I awoke to the sound of somebody slowly moving on the other side of the wall. I could hardly breathe. I pulled out my gun. I realized that whoever it was, they were moving toward an open door in the wall just a few feet from me.”
Now the tears were rolling down Uncle Thompson’s cheeks. “I jumped out into the door just as a German soldier jumped out from the other side. We were literally face to face and eye to eye. He was just a boy my age. He started drawing his weapon and so I shot him dead.” Uncle Thompson sobbed, “And there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about that boy and his mama and daddy.”
Suddenly, his eyes were wide and his voice desperate. He looked at me and whispered, “Did I do the right thing?” I didn’t know what to say, so we were both quiet for a minute. Then, I said, “Uncle Thompson, you only did what you had to do.” He dried his eyes and said, “That’s what I tell myself every day.”
We were 60 years and 5000 miles removed from that incident, yet as he spoke, he was right there in the middle of it. The memory was as fresh and vivid as it had been when it happened, perhaps, even more so. And now, another 35 years later, the memory of the story remains with me. Uncle Thompson is with the Lord now, but my love, gratitude, and respect for him remains.
One of the great concerns in my lifetime has been the tragic breakdown between generations, and the subsequent loss of wisdom, heritage, and love. I thank God for what I have received, and am determined to pass it on. We have an amazing heritage in the Gospel and in the effect that it has had in our lives. Are we willing to share our story? Are we able to hear someone else’s? If we can, the respect and appreciation between us as people will grow, and our wisdom will increase.
Stories have happy moments and sad moments; scary moments and funny moments. In Christ, all of it is redemptive. Tell someone what Jesus has done in your life, especially someone in a generation or culture that is different than your own. And then … listen.
STEPHEN SIMPSON is the Editor of One-to-One Magazine and the Director of CSM Publishing. In addition to publishing ministry, Stephen has served in leadership for churches and ministries in Costa Rica, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Michigan, as well as being the Senior Pastor of Covenant Church of Mobile (2004-2013). He continues to travel in ministry across North America and in other nations.