My new friend, Jim, showed me an article written by one of his buddies in the Vietnam war.
There was a photo that accompanied the piece his friend, Mike Sanders, had written. In the photo were three guys, my friend, Jim, Sanders and a third soldier who didn’t make it home.
The article struck me for its power and its simplicity, particularly one five-word sentence: “He died in my arms.” Who wouldn’t be moved by that?
The author is now a minister in the state of Washington, Jim told me. And, he is a newspaperman as well.
Writing power is found in simplicity. Usually, the fewer the words the better, or as I tell young writers: A newspaper story should be like a pretty girl’s skirt. Long enough to cover the subject and short enough to be interesting.
The article mentioned above fits that criteria.
Too often, writers want to go for length. The longer, the more impressive, they think. They often choose to use flowery phrases in an attempt to be powerful. But what can be more powerful than, “He died in my arms”?
The article also moved me because death is one reason I chose to leave the ministry.
I was ordained in my home church in July 1976 and last April I told the church I have served for nearly 30 years I would be leaving the end of August.
For over a year, my wife and I tossed around the idea that one day our time at that church would come to an end. I had no idea I would have a heart attack so health didn’t enter into our decision.
Each year the church congregation votes on the minister and each year they asked us to stay by an overwhelming margin.
The ministry there began as an interim ministry. At least once a month I told the board they needed to find a “real” minister because my full-time job prohibited me from devoting the attention to them they needed.
“We like you,” people would say.
But, I am not the kind of person who can minister to the sick and grieving. I am so thankful there are pastors out there like Mark Thompson of First Baptist Church in Brazil and our hospital chaplain, Doug Givan. I am not wired like that.
Oh, I’m not selling myself short. I believe journalism can be a ministry as much as preaching from a pulpit or calling on the sick and those who have lost loved ones.
If we can shine light on what is going on in the community, people can sometimes be motivated to get involved and make the community a better place to live. And, I have reason to believe I do a good job as a journalist and editor. At least that’s what people tell me.
The piece Jim shared also “got” me because of two of my friends who returned from Vietnam different men than when they went over there.
Dave was a radio station engineer and another Jim really didn’t have a career when he came home.
Dave was a really nice guy who spent a lot of time sitting and thinking, probably too much time thinking.
My other friend could not get over the night when a rocket flew into the bunker where he and two friends were located. He was the only one who survived.
One night, during our freshman year at college, we went out for pizza. It began to rain and then to storm. Just as we reached the dorm, I was standing behind him and a clap of thunder boomed with a flash of lightning. I have never seen such terror on a man’s face.
I thought surely Vietnam would be the last such “conflict” we would be so stupid to enter. I guess each generation has to make their own mistakes.
But, regardless of what I thought of Vietnam or any other war, I fully support our service people and I thank them for their service every opportunity I have.
Why didn’t I serve? My draft number was high and I was never called up. But I would have served. I even thought of enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard but thinking was as far as it went.
We have just celebrated our nation’s birthday and last Saturday our salute to first responders special publication went into The Brazil Times. We thank those people for their service, too.