Death at random.

This morning I was reflecting on something the visiting nurse said yesterday. I pointed out that I had created vital documents, and taped copies of them on my refrigerator: Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatments (POLST); durable power of attorney for healthcare; healthcare directive/living will; list of medications; and personal written instructions for hospice. The nurse said, “I’ve never seen anyone do that, they all think nothing will happen, even though if I am here, that means they are very sick.”

They all think nothing will happen? I guess they’ve—the nebulous “they”—have never been to war. Once you have been to war, or even in a serious accident, how can you believe nothing will happen? Guess what? Denial, wishful thinking, is endemic to the human race. Even in Vietnam, while my platoon was sitting on the helicopter pad, waiting for a combat assault, clutching our rifles, I listened to men joking how it wouldn’t be them to catch the bullet or mortar round, but someone else, the guy next to them. Perhaps that’s what it takes to face the fire—a fantasy that it isn’t random, that the bullet has someone else’s name on it. That particular combat assault was a bad one. Sometimes the chopper drops you in a rice paddy and only farmers are around. This time, the drop was into an ambush zone; my platoon was decimated within minutes. Random!

I was stationed at the firebase, or Landing Zone (LZ) of Quan Loi, near An Loc village, in what Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), designated III Corps, just north of the Mekong Delta. It was 50 years ago, but the memory pictures are clear. We lived in self designed “hootches”. A hootch started with a wooden 2×4 frame, to which we nailed screening, to keep the mosquitoes from an easy entrance. On top of the frame we laid steel plates, which were also used to build the landing strip for the C-123 Caribou’s, our lifetime to supply. Atop the steel plate we laid sandbags, and more sandbags were piled along the sides. Inside we tried to create a semblance of privacy by hanging poncho liners from the framing. There you have it, your basic hootch.

Even young men who didn’t want to be there, wanted to customize their abodes, many creating, accidentally, another way to die. Someone got the clever idea to substitute wooden rocket boxes for sandbags. These boxes were scavenged from the Cobra helicopter assault teams, which used the 2.75” rockets to bring hell to the enemy (along with 20mm rapid fire cannon, rapid grenade launcher). The clever guys would fill the boxes with sand, pile them up against the walls (screening), and think “now I have more protection than sandbags”. Some would further customize their “walls” by using a torch to bring out the grain of the wood—snazzy. One day, I was sitting in my hootch scraping globs of mud off my boots, when the air raid sirens went off, signaling a Vietcong mortar or rocket attack. Before I could even react, there were multiple explosions just outside. Two hootches were hit, one with sandbags around the walls and one with rocket boxes. The guys in the sandbag hootch were alive, looking like sand monsters. The guys in the rocket box hootch were either dead or badly torn up….by the wooden splinters from their customized walls, rather than from the explosion or mortar shrapnel. Random!

My oldest daughter was driving home after a family engagement party, during which no one had alcohol—no particular reason, we preferred sparkling apple cider. One the two lane road, headlights were weaving from side to side, coming towards her. Before she knew it, the small pickup truck was in her lane. She turned the wheel hard left, rather than right, without thinking. The car was totaled, she ended up with a fractured wrist. Had she turned right, she would probably have been killed. Random! The other driver had consumed two six packs of beer and was working on a third, after smoking weed. It was late at night, there were few other vehicles. Random!

It’s all random….unless you believe, as I do, that a sovereign God watches over all. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Luke 12:6. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”- John 10:27-29.