Vietnam. July 1969
The current pushed the boat sideways as I tried to nose it up and onto a muddy bank. The smell of burnt underbrush and decomposing flesh turned my stomach. The job itself was sickening enough, knowing I must search the dead to find important documents or other clues about this elusive enemy. Coming back for a body count was dangerous, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Something was wrong, and I could feel it. The enemy was near though I could not see, hear or smell them.
Cautiously, keeping my eyes on the enemy bunker ahead of me, I reached over and felt my way into the ammo box for a grenade. I lifted it from the box and pulled the pin and raised it high to throw it onto the riverbank.
It was not to be.
One year and two months later I left the hospital and the cocoon that had been my hiding place, the consequence of that fateful day on the river in Vietnam. I could never have expected to survive the explosion that the doctors told me was from my own grenade hit by a sniper's bullet. My face was gone along with my right ear, my hair, my nose, lips, eyelid and thumb. My fingers were hanging on tendons. Nearly half the skin from my entire body was gone, and my chest was blown open exposing my heart ... yet, I continued to breathe.
It has been 30 years and counting since that day of living hell. It has left the reminder in the form of scars that cover my body; worse yet, my face. I often say that it wouldn't be so bad if I was beneath my clothes, but no, the devastation is out there where no one can miss it. Children cry and turn, running into things. It probably doesn't help when I growl and jerk my head at them.
Then there was the guy staring at me while he drove his car into the Dairy Queen. Bam! Right through the plate glass that had written on it, "Drive In." I was laughing what was left of my head off. The light I was at kept changing colors, and the guy behind me was changing colors as well. It dawned on me that I better go or he might hit me, so I took off only to see I was running the light. I hit my brakes and the man behind me plowed into the rear of my car. I was hysterical - two wrecks in two minutes all because of my face. I laughed till I was crying. I got out to apologize. Everyone at the Dairy Queen thought I was drunk. Then they saw me with one eye, one ear, one nostril, no hair and no face, and they thought they were drunk.
My ear was replaced with a plastic stick-on imitation. Sometimes it falls off when I sweat. I was preaching in Jamaica one hot sticky night years ago when suddenly the crowd began to suck in air like a Hoover.
I soon realized they were gazing in amazement ay my ear. It had fallen off while I was preaching.
In a panic, I reached to my right shoulder where it was lying face up as though waiting to hear from God above. I grabbed it and reattached it, explaining, "My ear fell off and I was just replacing it." They didn't even blink till someone yelled, "It's a 'miracle.' There is a God!"
As you read this, your interest went from casual reading of a short war story to personal interest, through sympathy to near empathy. Not just feeling for me, but feeling with me - the pain of burns, only to be surprised by the unexpected humor leaving you wondering if along with my face I lost my mind.
"How can you laugh about it?" I am often asked. How can I not laugh when the pain sometimes gets so unbearable that laughter is the best medicine I know to relieve the pain? I don't like being laughed at, so I create an environment that lets people laugh with me, not at me.
God gave us humor for reasons much greater than telling dirty jokes or doing mean pranks at others' expense. I laugh at myself but not in self-degrading mutilation of my own spirit. It's bad enough to have a mutilated body, so I refuse to let it go to my soul. I laugh and let laugh.
So, if the scars of life have written on your soul in bold letters, "S.O.S.," don't give in; give out. Don't sit down and cry; get up and laugh and discover that the whole world is laughing with you-not at you. Go ahead. Overdose on some good medicine... laugh and let laugh.
Reprinted with permission by Pentecostal Evangel, December 17, 2000.