A Violent Mercy

This morning we buried a brother in Christ.  Husband, father, faithful servant of the church, colleague, friend – he was remembered in many ways by the handful of people asked to share some of their memories of him.  He was also a veteran, going overseas at 19, towards the tail-end of the European scope of World War II,  coinciding with the German counter-offensive we call the Battle of the Bulge.

A colleague shared that this man received his Purple Heart shortly after arriving in Europe.  He stepped out from behind a building, and the next thing he remembered was waking up in a hospital bed, his left leg amputated just above the knee.  A sniper had shot his leg off. Why his leg?  Did the sniper miss?  Was the leg all that he could see?  Was it some young, inexperienced sniper that fired too soon?  Was it a freak of wind or something jostling the shooter just as he fired?

What if it was a war-weary sniper, a sniper forced into his job in fear of being classified as unpatriotic?  What if he was well aware of the tides of war turning against Germany, against his country and his army?  What if he was tired of it all?  What if he had the opportunity to shoot his target somewhere else – the stomach or the chest or the heart or the head?  What if he had the line of sight to do it, but decided that, at least this once, he was going to be merciful.  He was only going to take a leg – just enough to incapacitate a soldier, just enough to justify to his commanding officer.

The man we memorialized today recovered from his wound.  He lived to one month shy of his 91st birthday.  He had a long and successful career as an engineer.  He married and had a family.  He was an avid tennis player and bike rider.  He served actively and faithfully in our congregation for close to 45 years.  He gave generously to people in need.  All of that because a sniper’s bullet struck his leg rather than his stomach or chest or heart or head.

We hear the story and think what a terrible tragedy, a terrible loss for a 19-year old young man to bear for the rest of his life.  But what if it was actually a blessing, a gift of life in the midst of the horrors of war, a violent mercy?  Fascinating to wonder.

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