This is worth your time.
This is a few years old, but still impressive.
The need to be both vulnerable and authentic has been on my mind for months. Choosing to experience vulnerability, or having “the courage to be imperfect” as Brené Brown describes, is empowering. It’s a necessity not a flaw.
Resisting vulnerability weakens rather than strengthens. It takes honesty and self-awareness not to recoil in uncomfortable moments.
Brené wisely states that we cannot numb emotion selectively.
It’s not easy but it appears to be essential for personal growth and lasting relationships. We can never truly connect with others without a willingness to be vulnerable. There is more to it than I’ve explained. It takes repeated experience to ‘get it.’
Brené gets it. Do we get it? More importantly, do I get it?
My great uncle, Arthur Shannon, was an aerial photographer in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. On April 14, 1945 his plane crashed in the sea near Formosa (Taiwan). He was picked up by the United States Navy but died shortly thereafter as a result of injuries sustained in the crash. He was thirty-two.
A collection of his papers and his Purple Heart sit on a shelf in my office. A few dozen letters to his sisters, mother, a nephew, and his wife Regina; college admission letters, telegrams, clipped newspaper articles; a large scrapbook typical of the 1930s and 1940s, and a few photographs are all that remain to tell the story of his life.
He grew up with his parents and six siblings in a house near the corner of North Avenue and North Highland in Atlanta, Georgia. The family attended Druid Hills Baptist Church and Regina lived near by. According to one of his report cards, in 1928 he only missed one day of school at Bass Junior High School in Little Five Points.
A letter dated May 8, 1945, from the United States Secretary of War, addressed to Regina, reads as follows:
My dear Mrs. Shannon:
At the request of the President, I write to inform you that the Purple Heart has been awarded posthumously to your husband, Sergeant Charles A. Shannon, Air Corps, who sacrificed his life in the defense of his country.
Little that we can do or say will console you for the death of your loved one. We profoundly appreciate the greatness of your loss, for in a very real sense the loss is a loss shared by all of us. When the medal, which you will shortly receive, reaches you, I want you to know that with it goes my sincerest sympathy, and the hope that time and victory of our cause will finally lighten the burden of your grief.
Henry L. Stimson
Arthur’s marriage to Regina was short. They had known each other for years but didn’t marry until Arthur’s enlistment in the Army. They never lived together due to the war and had no children. Regina died in a car accident just a few months after Arthur’s military death benefits began to arrive. It’s ironic that they both died in a crash on opposite sides of the earth.
There is no heroic story to tell about his wartime experience. Just a citizen doing his duty. A son, brother, uncle, and husband whose life was cut short in defense of the republic. There was no ram in the thicket that day. No one to step in and take his place.
The cost of war is high. Did he die in vain? What would he say if he could answer the question? His voice has been silenced yet in my mind the gentle and clear answer is, no. The cost of tyranny is much higher.
This evening, I’ve been reflecting on the last two lines of the poem “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. The character in the poem is an adult looking back at the cold winter mornings of youth, recognizing the lack of gratitude shown towards the family patriarch in what the author calls a house of “chronic angers.” The poem concludes with the lines:
“What did I know, what did I know of Love’s austere and lonely offices?”
The line “Love’s austere and lonely offices” is so pathetically true. Love is simple in nature yet there is a tendency to make it something glamorous, something beyond its scope. Something it cannot and should not be. At times, love is austere; it is stern and unadorned. It is silent, hidden behind the scenes.
A friend edits the ending of every fairy tales she reads to her children, adding; “and they worked really hard on their marriage, and lived happily ever after.” She is opening their imaginations to the story between the pages. The real life story of the silent heroes we call mom and dad.
For a child, love’s lonely office includes not understanding why “no” and “not now” mean “I love you.”
For a married couple love’s “lonely offices” are they places they stand without regard to personal pleasure. Because of love, friends and extended family never come first. Because of love, time and resources are sacrificed for things that hold little interest. Because of love, both will fret over whether or not they have done the right thing.
It is love that allows them to disagree passionately without fear that an opinion held too strongly will break them apart. It is love that allows conflict and love that keeps all other opportunities for romantic interest out of sight and out of mind.
Love’s eye is not blind. It is selective. It weighs truth in the balance and understands that no collection of flaws and quirks are superior to the man, woman, or child they have chosen.
Certainly “love’s austere and lonely offices” are not the only offices held in marriage, but they are the sacrificial offices required to keep the flame of love’s temple alive.
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