In August of 2005 I received the terrible news that a young boy, who had been one of my Sunday School students, was killed in a road side bombing in Iraq. As I remembered his joy of life I couldn’t help but weep. I complained to God about what was to me an unthinkable waste. I found no peace in the matter. I had been for the war. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the pain and sorrow that his parents went through.
I later found a small bit of solace in a most unexpected place. Last year I read, for the first time, Don Quixote. I had never read it before because I looked at it as a comedy and I have never been all that enthusiastic about comedies. I was in for many surprises. There’s a place in the book where Don Quixote, in one of his lucid moments, gives a discourse on the topic: which is better, the life of a scholar or the life of a soldier? As I read this it became clear that I had a very different standard for evaluating a life than that of Cervantes. Cervantes’ standard was that the better life is the one that gives the most for the community. My standard was that the better life is the one that has the richest experiences. Don Quixote concludes that the life of the soldier is better because the soldier sacrifices the most and without the soldier there could be no scholars. After reading this I will never again think of the life of a soldier as wasted. It’s a precious gift. Even if the gift is wasted by politicians and policies, the life itself still stands as a life well spent.