I went to my mailbox this afternoon and found an unusual object–a handwritten letter. It was from Peter, a former student who just recently left for the Marines and is suffering through boot camp. He wanted me to share his message with my students, but I thought his words valuable for us all:
Dear Mrs. Dagen,
If you could read this to your classes in school, that’d be great. The word “freedom” has a new meaning and feeling when all is taken from you, though mine was by choice. In a way, I’m wishing I could take it back BUT I don’t regret or resent my decision. As we (civilians) take everything most likely for granted and I wish I had more respect for the simple things we have … such as doors for the toilets. This boot camp is basically a dictatorship … they say “move” I move. They say, “No, you can’t use the restroom” because you didn’t say it loud enough, you end up peeing in your pants … this happened to a guy in my platoon. We can’t smile … laugh … talk … move around.
Just make sure that everything you do you are thanking God for those who are willing to give it up so that you can do all those things. Study hard! School is your friend!
And Mrs. Dagen, I hope you and your family are well. I’m doing okay. It’s difficult to stay motivated ’cause of our schedule and everything. Overall, it’s awful, but every once in awhile I’ll remember or think or pray and I get motivated again to wake up yelling to take the next day.
September 6, 2012
I am tearing up as I read your letter—in part because I feel sorry for you but in part because I know that the lack of freedom you are now experiencing is on behalf of the freedom we Americans currently have and long to keep. Thank you for being willing to serve in such a way! I will be happy to read your letter to my students in each and every class (anything to encourage hard work!). I am praying for you every day!
As this political battle for the upcoming election heats up—and more and more of our Christian values and, yes, freedoms, seem to be on the line– I worry more about the enemy that is within this country than the enemy without, the enemy that you may someday face in the heat of battle. Those of us who are not in military training would do well to heed your written admonition to my students: “Study hard! School is your friend!” I know you did not look at school or studying as your friend back in your days in my classroom, and I have to admit I am laughing a little bit at your schedule that includes school and exams!
For us adults, the studying we need to do isn’t from a book, necessarily (although certainly we diligently need to read God’s Word), but rather an intent studying of our cultural and political climate and current events. If we spend our days and nights entertaining ourselves rather than being vigilant, we may find ourselves living in a land without these freedoms you now realize you took for granted, freedoms I take for granted too.
For some reason, Proverbs 24:30-34 keeps coming to my mind, though it is about slothfulness leading to poverty; I keep equating the verses to our lack of intentional action and the impact our inaction could have on our freedoms:
I went past the field of a sluggard,
past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;
thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.
I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw:
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man (NIV).
You may remember reading Fahrenheit 451 in my class? That is the text my students are just beginning. Even though I have taught it many times, I am reading it again as if it were new to me—and I am reminded how very diligent we must be to protect freedoms as basic as the freedom to read, to think, and to act on those thoughts. You probably remember how much the author, Ray Bradbury, got right as he forecasted the future from his vantage point way back in 1953. (He just died this summer, by the way, at age 91.) At least by reading his book, we can get a glimpse of what could be and, I hope, make a determination that we won’t allow it. (And by “we” I include you. Get reading! :)) Thanks for sharing your thoughts on freedom within your experience. It definitely adds perspective!
So is Michael in your platoon, getting yelled at every hour too? (If so, tell him I am also praying for him.) I can’t say your experience sounds pleasant, but I am glad that you are taking time to think and pray and determining to wake up—even to yelling—each day! I hope this part of your training is short and that happier days arrive soon. Just pretend these officers are very mean (and loud) versions of Coach Calixte, who was always making you work hard to be your very best on the soccer field. Winning as a Marine means so much more to so many!
Love you, Peter, and I will share your story and your letter. I will continue to pray for you; please pray for us, too, that we might take your words to heart and learn by them. Remember that God sees you and loves you and is the ultimate director of your path. And He isn’t yelling, just loving you and watching over you.
Thanks so much for writing!