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Reflections on a frosty morning

November 06, 2013 | 08:58 AM

A few days ago, I awoke to a beautiful landscape of white. A heavy frost had covered every twig and blade of grass with a sparkly coating of reflective ice. The edges of the golden leaves of autumn were outlined as though given a final tribute before their whirling to the ground. It was a splendid scene that morning looking from my windows at the farm.

With the world before you covered by a clean coating of white, it is easy to forget that there is a darker underbelly to everything in life. But not this morning, for lurking in a big dying sycamore were huge black turkey vultures. At a distance, they looked like evil judges garbed in black robes. With the use of binoculars, I could distinguish their red heads tucked into their chests for warmth. Even scavenger birds get cold on a frosty morning.

The vultures looked very ominous huddled in that tall white tree. As the sun rose in the sky bringing its warmth with it, the birds began to stretch their wings to pick up the heat. The white of their underbellies reminded me of what big birds they are and yet how graceful they soar when in the air.

There were 27 birds that I counted that day. When a car drove by and startled them, they sprang into the sky in frenzy. It was beautiful to see these magnificent gliders aloft. What a strange mix of characteristics they possess. They look so threatening, yet never attack anything that is alive. They are scavengers that clean the world of the remains of death. They make use of what other living beings see as worthless. They use the air currents to soar with efficiency. Rarely do they flap their wings as they catch updrafts and float with wings tilting this way and that. Yet, many folks see them as forbidding creatures because they eat dead animals and have what may seem like ugly red heads.

The night before the first freeze, I watched the movie "The Gatekeepers." It featured interviews with six former chiefs of the Israeli secret service agency Shin Bet. They were reflecting upon the activities of their country since the 1960s. During this time, there had been almost constant turmoil within Israel as well as its neighboring countries. Through the years, prime ministers had brokered peace and initiated aggression with many groups: extremists, settlers, religious leaders and governmental entities.

Through it all, the organization these officers worked for gathered intelligence and provided surveillance. In the documentary, they voiced differing opinions as to the morality and effectiveness of various tactics used to do their work. Some relayed how their attitudes and evaluations have evolved with experience.

It was sobering to listen to them. Much of what they said were things we would rather not hear or know about. We want every morning to be beautiful as it lays hidden under a clean, white coat of frost. These men, with their histories of tracking terrorists and failed peaceful efforts, appeared like the vultures lurking in the trees, dark and waiting to do the unknown. Both are necessary, but we would rather not get involved with their messy business.

At the conclusion of the program, they all made statements in this vein: "One group's terrorists are another group's freedom fighters." Think about it; a sobering reality, I would say. All of the interviewees said that regular contact, negotiations and talks between all sides of an issue were vital. Few thought military action brought peace, but that a strong military is essential to peace.

Each year we pause and give honor to our military veterans. A moment or a day is totally inadequate as a response to what our veterans have sacrificed in their efforts to keep our country free. Our veterans are also a bit like the turkey vultures waiting in the tree that morning, ready and prepared to clean up our messes. When called into service, they are efficient, capable and effective and yet often undervalued by the society that depends upon them.

We are more and more aware of the toll that conflict inflicts upon those who serve. Studies show that actual physical changes take place in brains that have been exposed to such things as roadside bombs. Not all wounds are visible. Military personnel, with the help of modern medicine, can survive the trauma of juries, but the damage remains. We call such survivors "the walking wounded," but it is not only those who serve on the front lines who are hurt. Whole families suffer as they try to cope with the fallout of war's damage. The Indiana Mental Health Foundation says we have a problem of epidemic proportions in our country.

We will all want to see a snappy military parade with a loud brass band on this Veterans Day. But, better yet, we must face the need to solve the inevitable discord in our world peacefully. Above all this Veterans Day, let us thank and support those who served the military needs of our country.

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Corydon Democrat, 301 N. Capitol Ave., Corydon, IN 47112 1-812-738-2211 email