Life has tried to break me… Have you ever pondered that? I think you’ll find a good many people have either said it or heard it, and you’d be wise to prepare for it. Life will be too heavy to lift at times, but you can persevere. …And help is always appreciated.
Blogging for IFC gives me, as a former Chairman and current board member, a great deal of latitude. I’m usually left to my own devices these days to chase the rabbits I wish. This particular blog deals with suffering, God, and lovingkindness more so than IFC’s typical content. If that isn’t your cup of tea, there are a thousand other blogs on the site you may read and enjoy. I’m offering this blog as a point of personal privilege, if you will, and departing just a bit from my typical advocacy messaging, although if you read my blogs you’ll sense who and what I am. I’d like to posit the idea of burdens and helping ease others’ burdens to you.
I was thinking about this concept during our annual IFC-PAC steak supper. Our special guest speaker was Kris “Tanto” Paronto. I was seated at a table with some friends and my bride just a few feet from Tanto. As he recounted his personal account of the 9-11-2012 attack in Benghazi, you could see by his gestures, the look on his face, and the tone and timber of his voice he was reliving his experiences. It became obvious to me he’d given, and continues to give, no small amount of himself in his work. …And make no mistake, there is a significant cost associated with giving this much of oneself.
Life has tried to break me, the wounds have not yet healed.
But I am not a victim, never been and never will.
My heart was born a warrior, each day I’m fighting still.
I am everything the darkness could not kill.
-John Mark Green
Supporting one another seems to come hand-in-hand with the volunteer corps at IFC. We’re a very understanding group and I’m really proud of how we come alongside one another when there’s a family problem or hurdle to jump. But I often worry about how western culture embraces the folks around us who are hurting. I listen to all kinds of rhetoric each time there is an act of violence involving a gun. Of course, there is automatic blame on a hunk of metal, as if violence and the hearts and minds of man would no longer matter if the hunk of metal had never been invented. That’s a really ignorant thing to believe and say, especially in times of loss. If you chase that rabbit long enough, you’ll arrive at the truth – statements like those are cruel. Why? Because at their heart they contain no respect for truth. As we defend the truth we’re often vilified for it.
There are no fundamental problems with our brand of defense. Yet, I hope we don’t lose sight of concepts like love and caring during the skirmish. As Tanto offered the history and some specifics of his story, he also offered very personal and private glimpses of himself for us all to contemplate. Tanto, like us all, needs prayer and compassion.
I had a ton of questions I wished to ask him. I compiled a running list of them as the night progressed. They ranged from particulars from the book and movie to weapon choices and applications, to experiences in and out of the church as a Dad. I had a long list, so I planned on waiting until the end of the night to go down through them all with Tanto. After the function was winding down, there were four or five of us left, and Tanto made his way over to shake my hand and thank me for being a small part of the evening. That was my chance. I have no doubt, despite how tired he was, he would have plopped down at a table and been gracious enough to answer all my questions as best he could. But it was at that moment that I recalled his eyes during his talk. I sensed that each time he gives these addresses, it taxes him deeply. I sensed a battle between pleasure and pain that few might grasp. That evening, he seemed to offer others absolutely indispensable precepts for examination all while metaphorically gutting himself in the process. The fact that he makes a supplemental living doing so is probably inconsequential – if it helped someone, he’d tell his story to anyone willing to listen and reflect. As such, I was moved to depart from my protracted mental list of questions. Alternately, I shook his hand with a warm embrace, offered him a smile, and thanked him.
And that brings us full circle. Life has tried to break Tanto, just as it has, or will, you and I. He’s willing to put himself in uncomfortable places among strangers hoping that it’ll make difference for others. …And are we willing to do the same? Are we willing to put ourselves out of our comfort zones to come alongside others? Can we help someone who is hurting? Do we?
If I saw a “Moms Demand Action” sticker in the back window of a car with a blown tire, would I pull over, grab that spare, and get to work, or would I view that person as some sort of enemy and drive off? Our fight to preserve liberty is crucial, but we must do so magnanimously. We’re children of the Creator, and we should behave in ways to routinely glorify Him. Tanto needs your prayers, as does your enemy, as do your colleagues. Don’t lose sight of this.
I made a mistake with Tanto at the end of the night, of which I’m ashamed. I didn’t need to ask a bunch of questions to satisfy my curiosity, so I didn’t, and that was just fine. But I should have given him my number without expectation he provide his, and I should have let him know that if he needed to call on me as a brother to talk or send me a text at a particularly tough moment, I’d take that call and respond. Folks like him meet a lot of people, but I’m not always convinced they have a ton of “brothers” in the sense of Christ. …And even if he never ever needed to use my number, the gesture might have helped ease his burden just a little bit. I am taking steps to relay my number to him, and maybe he’ll read this blog someday. You never know.
To Tanto: I apologize. I could sense what you needed the other night, but I only got it half right, and I didn’t provide what I truly believed might be helpful – the offer of my love, compassion, and time. If you call, I’ll do my very best on all three accounts. I seek your forgiveness.
Don’t make my mistake, folks. When you sense someone is hurting, come alongside them. You may not have any idea how much good you can do in this world. Comfortable or not, if only we’d try…
Thank you for writing this. You encapsulated the raw emotion of that evening. I believe everyone who had the opportunity to hear him was just…blown away. I’ve done some major soul-searching since – his words just keep resonating. And you’re absolutely right: we need to remember that FIRST – we are all human. And act accordingly.
Michael: Your article is, “The Truth, and Nothing But The Truth”. Well written!
Thank you Michael for this post/blog Makes so much sense to help each other and not view people in a negative way. Everyone is struggling in there own issues unless we engage with them we will never know how much we may have helped them