Hacksaw Ridge and Chronic Disease
As I lay post-breakfast+medicine+prayer+nap, I bullied myself into getting out of my bed, out of my moping head, and out into the world to do something with my day even though I’m feeling under the weather.
I got up to take my dishes to the kitchen, and I slipped and fell down the stairs.
I didn’t die, but I did say, “Well that about sums it all up,” in my head. Then I dumped off my dishes in the kitchen, walked back up the stairs, snuggled back under the covers to start working on some writing and let the world face itself.
Auto-immune diseases are strikingly common in the United States and in other well-developed countries. Approximately one out of every five people reading this sentence in the United States are likely dealing with an autoimmune disease. There are plenty of ongoing debates as to where these diseases have sprung up from, such as farming in nutrient dead soils and even the modern rise of breakfast cereals. Among these widely varied diseases are lupus, IBS, psoriasis, and even depression.
When I was a kid spending my summers weaseling out of household chores to lay in the garden hammock and read books, back then I mentally associated being sick with either being old or being a bad person. I’m not sure where that connection first began, but it was true to me even when I was diagnosed with an ongoing condition that affects the intestines called Crohn’s Disease as a high school sophomore. Life has since been a process of un-learning this idea—although I’m not at all deluded about who’s fault it is that my body feels like it’s imploding whenever I eat too many french fries.
Anyone sick of the body or mind has a battle to fight, some days more than other days. It helps to know that who we are, what we accomplish, and our ability to be our best selves are not stitched together into absolutes like “success” or “failure.” God’s grace is so much more fluid and kind than all that.
Hacksaw Ridge, of all the things this movie could have done, really spoke to me and my life of “getting up and facing the day anyway” when the pain of chronic illness threatens to tempt me to sulk in my bed under my covers with Noah Gunderson playing in the background somewhere.
(Alright, I’m half-in at that mode at the moment, except swap Noah for the sound of a dog picking a bone—much less dramatic.)
Desmond Doss is the story’s unlikely hero, and he is the first Conscientious Objector to win the medal of honor. He volunteered in WWII to be a combat medic, but refused to handle a weapon, which caused him to be harassed and abused, even to almost be court marshaled before he completed his military training. He had to fight before he even reached the battle field, but it wasn’t a fight of fists for Desmond. It was a fight of convictions, of mental fortitude, and of physical restraint and self-control.
There’s a moment in Okinawa when this WWII medic is all alone on top of said Hacksaw Ridge and those parts of himself that training forced him to exercise manifest. While overwhelming Japanese forces linger, Doss works alone quickly and stealthily to pull the wounded men that have been left behind on the battlefield.
Meanwhile his entire company is already back down off the ridge. They don’t even know he’s been left behind until the next morning, when a sea of wounded seem to have showed up overnight in the company hospital tents.
This is a true story. The real Desmond Doss saved the lives of 75 men.
During the film rescue scenes, after each new body he successfully lowers to safety, Doss says this breathless prayer: “One more, Lord. Help me get just one more.” And then by some small, huge, beautiful miracle of moments followed by more moments, he fights through any fear or pain or exhaustion or hopelessness he may feel and goes back to save one more life. And then another.
I’m not saying this film is out for an Oscar, or that most people will even like it, but it moved me.
This image of Desmond, fighting through the threat of losing his own life, was saying, “With your help, Lord, give me strength to do this. To finish this. To fight for this moment, and for this choice.” Something in me reared its little head of hope.
I felt this conviction to live in that mode of questioning on a much less dramatic scale: One more article, Lord. One more moment so that I can collect my thoughts and say something kind in response to something hateful, or fearful. Let me have this one more day, Lord. Please. And let me be present for it.
Doss is a reclusive ponderer and pray-er. He was a conscientious objector of the war because, as a Seventh Day Adventist, he was a pacifist who considered killing a man to be murder in any context, a sin of great consequence. He also willingly signed up for the military, and although it was with the intention of saving lives instead of taking them he attempts to wrestle with and reconcile these two opposed ideologies of Thou shalt not kill and protecting his brothers in arms.
I watched this movie the day the election results came out. As a story about a man just trying to live and abide in his sometimes contradicting views, and in a world that pointed at his convictions and called him a fool, I found the story that much more potent on a political and a personal level.
Chronic disease is in an off way akin to ideological struggles. You feel it, it weighs on you, but it isn’t easy for others to see or for you to communicate to them. It’s not like the chicken pox, it doesn’t announce itself on your forehead for you. Questions of what mountains we will die on in our political dialogues, questions of how to express struggles of sickness in a way that helps but does not make us a target of pity, live in contention.
Our perceptions and our beliefs are always being tested, given a chance to grow and deepen, and also are given even more of an opportunity to be reliant upon the ambiguity that a perfect though not fully knowable God is on the reigning throne of all created things, and that he is not only fighting alongside us in our trenches of life, but he has assured an overwhelming victory in all the ways that really matter.
As you seek to ask the Lord for just a little more in your present struggles—more strength, more patience, more answers—I encourage you not to give in to sulking in the mud of your doubts, fixating too much on your shaky hands or your anxious heart, where you forget the beautiful truth that the Lord is listening. He hears you with a full heart.
In his great kindness, he is always listening, and he is generous with his own strength.