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“Air!” barked the command to the waiting Ukrainian jet fighters running toward their jets, snapping on helmets, starting ignitions without checking and taking off at night—always at night. Secrecy shrouded these sorties, the location of the jets, their destination.

For these young men, it was another night of work. They had a country to defend, families, relatives, work. Around the dinner table, no one asked where they were going. In gripping silence, the airmen waited at varied sites where the jets had been moved earlier.

Purposely, they led their enemies on back-to-back spirals and insane zigzags to deplete their gas tanks, forcing them to withdraw from combat. (Such as I remembered from yesterday’s Yahoo article.)

The depths of Ukrainian prayer have no name, honed by centuries of oppression and warmongering that only strengthened their resiliency. In my perception, last night’s display seems related to ineffable-spirit-directing trigger fingers, checking instruments, perhaps cursing, singing, laughing as the airmen who landed safely walked home on broken roads.

So how did this resiliency toward pain and suffering manifest, centuries ago? Undoubtedly, it was related to the discovery of God’s Spirit within the depths of our hearts, its wise expression for our times:

“As we become aware of the realm of the spirit, our lives begin to change,” a quote found in Recipe for Recovery: A Guide to the Twelve Steps of Chronic Pain Anonymous.

You can’t help but change as the Ukrainians are learning, and we, with them.

Mildred, 83 years old, loner in dusty bungalow. From her heart spewed nastiness: “I put my daughter-in-law’s picture in the shit house where she belongs!” Each defecation renewed the enmity. Twinkle Toes, her double-footed cat, fondled her flip-flops.

Ann, 84 years old, born in the projects. Years of scrubbing dulled yearnings. The shock in the mirror: “My hair is white!” Intruder-killer infected her lungs.

Sarah, 85 years old, Scottish spinster in ground floor apartment. Hilarious storyteller. Shock of white hair matched the wildness in her eyes. Menial work around city neighborhoods toughened her feet. Ulcerated now, they restrict her movements from bed to commode to chair. Friends still knock on her door.

Juanita, 74 years old, matriarch in son’s bedroom, frozen in recesses of atrophied brain.

Swollen eyes resembled the sorrowing mother. G-tube feedings ballooned her dark frame propped upon pillows. Her extended family watched television.

Marie, 77 years old, chameleon in duplex. Spent, she had lived within the will of her mate. Like a flitting moth, she sought rest, but there was none. Catalepsy crippled her body-soul, listing to the right.

Vivian, 61 years old, victim in handicapped apartment. Mousy hair pulled from temples spooked hooded eyes. Safety-pinned sweaters warmed her stone-heart. Soul illness infected her joints, precipitated seizures. She sat in her chair.

Mildred-Ann-Sarah-Juanita-Marie-Vivian, Home Care Patients I’ve known from the 1990s, limped through end time, the dross of their spent lives purified within God’s emptiness, encircling them with blessing.

I pray the same for myself.

“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Talbot, but we did all we could—Your husband’s heart just gave out on us,” said the emergency room doctor to the silver-haired woman sitting across from me. She gasped, then sagged onto her lap, while still rubbing the slim gold band on her finger, a gesture that seemed to quiet her during our long wait in the cry room for news. Earlier, her husband had collapsed onto the breakfast room table where paramedics revived him.

After a pause, the doctor slipped next to her on the couch and gently touched the back of her tweed coat. Stunned, she looked up, her ashen jowls mouthing speech, her dark eyes in bondage to angst. “I think I remember that your sons are on the way, that you’ve already made arrangements?” he said looking softly at her while smoothing his tie beneath his medical coat.

She nodded, then searched the confines of the room, grabbed a magazine from the coffee table, then threw it down. She was beside herself: her tears glacier-hardened. It had been that way the whole time I was with her.

Then, with balled fists, she sprang from the couch and shuffled toward the lobby. Outside, earlier snow showers had turned into whistling wind-capped snow spirals. From their midst emerged three figures, shoulders hunched, attentive to icy patches on the ground. She, too, saw the figures and with reckless abandon headed toward them, her arms outstretched, again drenching her flats. In the next moment, the sons slipped off their overcoats and raising their arms, tented their mother from the snow; then, hugged, their bodies swaying like a wind-up toy: release.

I watched for long moments–one of my favorite chaplain stories from the 1980s….

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