By J. Hogan
-Gains & Gleanings-
I have two friends who both joined the Navy as young men.
They know and love one another, and both made a career of the Navy, but their courses are quite different.
Both figured they’d further their education in the military, advance up the ranks and retire at 20 years.
Steve went into the chaplain corps, entering 26 years ago as an ensign. He and his wife Terry brought two kids into the world, both sons, and raised them in port cities like Penscacola, San Diego, and Norfolk.
As Steve steadily marched up the ranks, the Navy sent him to Princeton Seminary to further his education with a degree in ethics, before placing him above a slew of young chaplains. He’s winding up his military career now, serving his last duty station, at the rank of Captain - one slot lower than Admiral.
Don entered the Navy working in communication and encryption, and he’s got a great knack for it. So much so that he got a job working for a defense contractor testing and training when he retired after twenty years in the service. He and his wife, Kathy, also had two kids, a daughter and a son.
Despite Don’s talent in his field, his travels were necessarily truncated after his son, Joshua, was born.
Joshua was born with a severe disease at birth, and they were told he’d never walk and his mental development would be sparse.
They got the walking thing wrong — Josh walked with a hitch, but he went like the Energizer bunny. Unfortunately, they were right about cognitive development. When Joshua died at the age of 24, he was probably intellectually on par with an average 18 month-old.
Because of the limitations brought on by necessary adjustments to their life caring for Josh, Don only made it to the mid-level of the non-commissioned officer ranks, before he retired.
Some job opportunities that would have been open to him overseas at retirement weren’t possible, so he missed out on those higher paydays, too.
Both men love their country, their families, and they served with distinction and were a blessing to the military communities they were part of — including the one where they met and served together at my old church in San Diego.
One will retire with a Captain’s retirement, two adult children who are carving their path through life (including one son who just began his journey as a Navy officer), and at a relatively young age will be deciding with his wife where they’ll spend their golden years and what they’ll do with that time.
The other works where they could find both a decent job and good help for his now-deceased son. On an E-6’s retirement, he’ll have to keep working for years yet.
His wife is struggling with grief-induced depression after having her life focused on the daily care for their son for 24 years before he died. She’s struggling to find purpose without Joshua, although spending time with their young adult daughter helps some.
Two great guys, two great families… and life’s luck-of-the-draw dealt them drastically different hands. An outsider, not knowing the story, might think Don was an underachiever for only attaining an E-6 rank over twenty years, it was circumstantial not merit-based. His circumstances just couldn’t allow for the opportunities others could pursue.
I think of my friends — more like brothers to me, really — when I’m ministering to folks whose life doesn’t seem to be where I think it ought to be, and I try to remember that life is cruel sometimes. I can’t see the challenges they’ve faced and the disasters they’ve been through.
I still push for folks to be willing to make gains — the old saying is “Jesus will meet us where we are, but He loves us too much to leave us there” — but approaching the situation with a compassion born of knowing life’s ball bounces straight and true for some, but more like a rugby ball in a scrum for others, allows me to be of more use to my community.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.