Sunday, April 24, 2005

God, Hope, and Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash’s haggard voice soothes my soul. I’m listening to American IV: The Man Comes Around. The hurt and joy spill from his soul to mine through a pair of cheap headphones bought at the px to combat the music played by my roommate. Cash’s voice takes you to another place, a place you just feel. He’s able to take Trent Reznor’s Hurt and turn it into a cathartic experience. How can someone have that affect with mere words and worn voice. God is in that voice, speaking to me. I need Him. The Man in Black. He knew You and is no longer in the dark.

What have I become my sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

Even in this song God is somehow there. My sweetest friend. We are all going away, but you endure. Take it all. I have nothing. This empire of dirt is my home. Take it. Take everything away, but leave me your grace. I will only let you down. In our quest to please ourselves and you, we only succeed in making you hurt.

I sit here in my box, my patience being tested. The roommate’s listening or watching some shitty gangsta rap DVD on his new tv/DVD combo he just bought at the PX. We stopped by the PX after having to qualify at the range on paper targets. Qualifying in a combat zone, God help us. Could we possibly do any more admin crap while we’re in a supposed combat zone. We get rodded onto the range for safety, when less than 100 meters outside the FOB there are those that want to kill us. I’ve already had two all night missions this week. God forbid if they give us a few hours of down time. Not sleep time, down time. There’s a difference. Can I have one waking moment not involved in a mission or sleeping? Is that too much to ask? The rap music is trying to overwhelm the music in my headphones. I must escape this place. I have to turn up the volume on my headphones to stay sane. I’m winning the war on what flows through my ears, but my nose is in a losing battle. He’s doing it again. He’s spraying some God-awful cologne or deodorant spray up into the air around him as if to ward off evil spirits.

Take me away Johnny. Sing about God, hurting, killing, whatever, just take me away from this place for just a few moments. I hear a soulful woman’s voice singing with Cash. It’s rapturous, more beautiful than the sweetest smelling rose, lifting me higher, taking me away from this ugly place. It reminds me of being surrounded by dirt and violence and some angel of a girl walking up to me and handing me a rose. God she was precious, and the flower smelled like heaven. What are you doing here little girl? How can something so beautiful exist in such an depraved place? I want to cry out to God to help this girl. I want to protect her. Give her a good life, free of oppression. Rid her and the others of the chains that have forever bound their kind in this land. Protect her and give her peace. Give her a chance. Let her smile forever be. She must be an angel, sent here to remind the sorrowful that there is goodness and beauty on this earth. I hope she stays a long time. I don’t want Him to take her back yet. Don’t leave little girl. You must stay in this place and provide hope. Let her help these people. Give her opportunity. Don’t relegate her to being another field hand, watched over by men who sit idle. Keep her healthy and happy. Let her prosper. Let her dream big and attain them. Send her to school, a scholarship, opportunity. Make her a bright shining light.

Cash’s voice is bringing me back. The awful stench of the cologne has receded. The sleepless night before is behind me. The wasted hours sitting at a traffic circle don’t seem as fruitless anymore. For those hours make this moment that much better. I have three papers in front of me. I need the news. I need to know of something other than this place. They are all days old, but I don’t care. Discarded, they sat on the floor of the PX, with it’s picked through shelves. The Mother’s Day card display is almost empty as well. Only cards for daughters remain. How many people shopping in this shithole have daughters that are mothers? DVD’s, always DVD’s. So many movies, so few that interest me. The magazine rack in the back has been picked through as well. Hundreds of magazines but none with news. I need news, not magazines with girls asses bursting from the cover.

Cash is quoting a passage from Revelation. Take me away, even if it’s Armageddon. Let the Man come around, and I will welcome His embrace. Let the trumpets and multitude of angels sing. Let their voices fill my ears. Let the Man come around, and I will bow down before his throne. Fill this ugly place with your wrath and goodness. Show us your grace. Forgive me.

Magazines and magazines but nothing I want or need. Muscle men embracing bikini clad women, ass barely covered by a strand of fabric. God I don’t need this. I don’t need the women’s magazines boasting of the newest diet or position that will drive him wild in bed. I don’t need the guns or the trucks or the women or the computers or the games. How have they managed to make a dime from these magazines? To whom do these appeal to? Give me news. Doesn’t anyone in this God forsaken land read the news? I know not what day it is, neither the day of the week nor the date. It’s just one big day, eternal, never ending.

Where is the light? In the dead of night, in some desolate part of this place, why are my eyes always drawn toward the light? What am I looking for? I’m searching. Searching for that escape. Help me find it God. Show me the light of this place. Show me the light that will give me hope. Cash is singing about Hurt. I keep going back to that song. Listening to it doesn’t make me Hurt though. I makes me feel, the mind no longer numb.

Another song. A dying man, and Cash is putting me next to him. I’m listening to his last words. He’s out of prison and trying to get back to Louisiana to see his wife and son. God, don’t let me be that dying man on a journey to see his Rose. I’ll send his message and take his money to Rose, but I won’t walk in his shoes. I won’t have the same fate. I’ll give my love to my Rose and tell my boy how proud his daddy is of him. A man’s dying wish. Please give my love to Rose, don’t forget. I won’t forget. I’m not this dying man sitting beside me. I’m alive and will deliver the message myself.

The books are no different. Who are they appealing to? Is every person in this place a female looking for an escape through a romance novel? Another dark hole that leads to nothing. The books laugh at me as I peruse them, and I laugh back with the knowledge that I will never pick one off their dusty racks.

The newspapers are on my bed waiting to be read.

Cash is singing about a bridge over troubled water.
When you’re weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them off
I’m on your side
Oh, when times get tough and friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over trouble water, I will lay me down
When you’re down and out
When you’re on the streets
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part when darkness comes and pain is all around
Sail on silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine

God, be my bridge, and give me safe passage over this water. The bridge is long and the water dangerous. Help me cross it. Ease my mind. I’m weary. I’m weak. Strengthen me. I feel small compared to you. My tears are dry, but I sometimes see hurt in their eyes. Show yourself to these people. Fill their heart with light. Be on our side. We’re all the same. Another little girl peers around a gate. Look at her smile. There are millions like her, young and old. Sail on little girl. God, let it be their time to shine. Let their dreams be on their way. Let her shine. I’m on the streets and night has come. Deliver me from the pain. Show me the light that will guide my way. Help me to see. Help me to feel your presence amid the darkness that surrounds me. Is that you in that girl’s smile?

I pick up the paper on top and death screams out to me. 50 bodies found in the Tigris River. The Tigris. I’ve felt its cool water upon my skin. The souls of those killed making it colder. Kids playing, swimming against it’s current, oblivious to the horrors that lie beneath. Underneath this gruesome headline is Brittany Murphy. “A treat for the troops.” “20,000 free copies of Maxim going downrange featuring Brittany Murphy, a Marine’s curvaceous cousin.” Brittany staring at me with seductive eyes. Turning the page I see listings of recent U.S. deaths in Iraq. I’ll never be on this page. I can’t be. I still have to give my love to my Rose and tell my boy how proud I am of him.

Next page, ‘Akbar was racially harassed’, ‘DOD prepares to launch new sexual assault policy’, and ‘Maxim to give free copies to troops in Iraq’. Brittany again. A picture of the cover. She’s now wearing only underwear. A picture of a girl wearing almost nothing next to a story about the DOD’s sexual assault policy. I keep turning the pages. The new Pope, Putin and Rice, Saudis’ interest in nuclear development, Italian premier resigns, an image of Virgin Mary on a Chicago underpass. People desperate for any sign of hope in a dark world will see anything in the most unlikely places. I don’t need a vision of the Virgin Mary. I need God. I need to feel him. God reach out to me, embrace me, draw me to you. I see you in everything and yet I somehow still feel a million miles from you.

Did you know that boy I saw yesterday, the disabled boy who couldn’t walk? His legs looked strong. Why can’t he walk? Why did his parents not bother to clothe him from the waist down? Who are these people? How could he still be smiling with joy? He has hope in the midst of nothing. You gave him that hope. He sees you and knows you. How could he make me hurt for him and make me smile at the same time? His face was aglow with joy as I took his picture. Turning the camera around to reveal to him his own image looked to be the greatest gift he’d ever known. It’s just pixels, tiny digital dots that made him somebody, even if just for a moment. His image may be erased from my camera but never from my thoughts. Go with him throughout his hard life. Give him a little joy amongst the pain and the hurt as he did for me.

My roommate is now attempting to clean the pigsty that is his home. Our box is ugly. There is nothing beautiful inside. Where are you God? I need you and yet I reject you. The music is still loud in my ears, barely defeating the vile sounds emanating from our room. “The first time ever I saw your face.” He’s doing it again. Taking me away.

I thought the sun rose
In your eyes
And the moon and the stars
Were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the endless sky
My love

I see it. I see you when the sun rises or sets. I see it here in this box. My love, my precious wife. Her picture draws me closer to you. There is something beautiful in this box after all. It’s You through her. God, be with her and our son. She is a gift. A gift of You from You. Her light is eternal and endless as the sky, shining thousands of miles away, giving me the gift of promise. Promise and hope for a new day. The light in the distance that sustains me. You sustain me through her. I can feel her heart close to mine. Let me see her again. Let me feel the joy of life through her. Her hope is never ending and everlasting. Let me embrace it. Let me embrace her again. She is my hope. You are my hope. There is hope in this world, even in this place. Let these people see it as I have.


Blogger Impacted Wisdom Truth said...

Dear Michael:

That is the most heartfelt, beautiful, and poignant thing I have read from someone serving in Iraq. My prayer for you is that your prayers come true.

I linked to your post here.

4:58 AM  
Anonymous Bob Perrow said...

Michael, that was beautiful. I can feel your sadness at being in a place you don't want to be, and away from those you want to be with. May God keep you - - Psalm 121 buddy.

You are doing a job there in Iraq that only you can do. We here back in the States admire you for it. After all, my son is behind you in line.

Keep your head down, and your chin up.

And yes, roomates can be a pain, can't they?

Bob P.

8:25 AM  
Blogger DRH said...

I am praying for you, Michael, specifically that you will feel the Hand of God on you. I can't begin to imagine the loneliness you are experiencing, but I know God's peace and it is that peace that I am praying for for you. Keep dwelling on your safe return home to your wife and son. All thoughts of not returning come from someone other than God. I am picturing that return for you.

God bless you for your willingness to be a soldier in a foreign land for strangers there and at home, for your faithfulness to your wife, for your ability to see and communicate what you see so well for the rest of us.

We are proud of you for who you are and what you do. Never doubt that for a minute.


8:43 AM  
Anonymous stephen said...

Michael, that was amazing. You make everything seem so real. Don't ever forget that God is with you. He hears you.

Back here in the US, every day, we hear about how there was a car bomb that killed some people, some soldeirs were killed, and the occasional hostage taken or X number of dead bodies found. After we hear about those things, we think "oh, how sad" then turn the page of the newspaper or keep eating breakfast or the news anchor changes subjects.

Reading your blog I realize that those things are a part of your LIFE, not just the usual news. You live in the world that we see represented by the front page picture of a smoking car that blew up. You LIVE there. After the day's work, you go home and listen to music, read, pray, and talk with your friends.

Wow. I admire people like you.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Jana Lane said...

If you're looking for a movie about the transforming power of imagination, as experienced through storytelling, I recommend "Lakeboat". It is an American movie and a very American story about some men who work on a ship that serves ports in the Great Lakes. I liked it very much. Another movie that I think gives a credible vision of human creativity and resilience is "Once Upon a Time When We were colored". Superb acting. I think both of these movies offer reasonable ground for optimism about human beings as well as being very good movies. You are in my prayers.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Desultory Girl said...

It's a very rough and difficult place you're in right now. It makes sense that being in the place you're at that you find it difficult to find or feel God.

But honestly, I think you've found God in many of the things you've mentioned, your family of course, which is not there, but that boy you took a picture of and the happiness you've brought him. I hope you can hang on to those thoughts to keep you going when all you naturally want to do is go insane when you're not sleeping or working.

Hang in there. I've said a prayer for you, your family, and brothers.

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Michael:
WOW!! That was a glorious ode to God and His presence in everything good you look for and find in the hard, dry place you find yourself in. I pray for you and for your safety, your safe return to a heart filled home, a God filled home. Hang in there - Be safe and know God walks in your shoes - oops, boots - as you hold Him in your self.

This soldier's mother keeps all GIs in her heart and prayers
God bless.

8:50 PM  
Blogger AFSister said...

Dear, dear Michael...
God is all around you, sweetie. He's guiding your hand, helping you put your feelings on paper. Your hopes, fears, and excitement- all conveyed to us through you written word. Your unwritten words though, are the ones you share with God. The thoughts you don't get on paper? They are the ones God hears most clearly. Many artists will tell you that their greatest masterpieces just "came" to them. A gift from God.

Your writing has become dark recently- please rely on your faith and warrior abilities to get you home safe. You have a child who needs his Daddy, and a wife who wants her husband by her side. You are doing WONDERFUL things in Iraq. Preparing future generations of Iraqi's for a democracy is a difficult, dangerous, but worthy job. Perform it well and you will serve humanity for decades to come.

Thanks safe.

11:19 PM  
Anonymous victor from fremont said...

What better testimonial for Johnny
Cash than from a soldier, his senses made raw from his surroundings. Those of us back in the world cannot feel and hear what he feels and hears from the ballads of Johnny Cash. We can only
imagine from this soldiers written

1:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love your writing. You seem to be at a place, metaphorically, that we all get to in life from time to time...a time when we realise our need for God's guiding hand/support and strength.. may He be that to you now, and may you find Him as your strenght and comfort.

stay safe,

2:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am in awe. Such beauty and such pathos in your words. The emotion and feeling there... You are in my prayers. God hold you close and keep you safe in the palm of His great hand. Thank you for your writing. It is a gift from God to us to help us understand you and your brothers and what war is like for all of you. I am so proud of you and what you are doing. My heart is grateful for men like you! Stay safe!
A Soldiers Angel

3:02 AM  
Blogger Veronika said...

I have been reading your blog for a while and every post of yours touched my heart so far, but this one put tears in my eyes! Interestingly enough I was lisenting to the very same CD last night just before going to bed, and it made me think a lot abou it....
Take care and all the best

4:54 AM  
Anonymous Russ said...

"American IV" is a powerful album. "Danny Boy", "Hurt", "We'll Meet Again" and "The Man Comes Around" can all bring tears to your eyes. I believe that there are five types of songs in the world.

1. Songs written by Johnny Cash.
2. Songs written by other people specifically for Johnny Cash to sing.
3. Songs that Johnny liked and "made his own" by covering them.
4. Good songs that Johnny didn't have the time to cover before he died.
5. Songs that were below the talents of Johnny Cash.

Keep yourself in one piece, trooper.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous donna said...

Dear Michael,
I read your Soldier Post this morning What an awsome job you have chosen to undertake for people you don't know and who will probably never be able to express to you their appreciation. I don't imagine that in your young life that you dreamed that you would meet God in Iraq. I am happy that despite the danger that you face continually, that you have seen what many search their entire lives for. The reality of the presence of God. The empty space in every persons life that can only be filled with God. He loved the world so much that He sent Jesus, His only Son to die for us! Imagine a perfect person who's every thought and deed was only love being condemned to die on a cross! That is what God did to reconcile us sinners to Himself. All we need to do is accept that, that Jesus paid it all. I sure want that for you, if you don't already accept it now, I believe that you will because that is what I hear in what you are posting, God calling you. He is there and He will never forsake you. I'm not sure how to link to a web site but check out, God has given us everything, all we have to do is read His Word and believe.
Sorry this is so long, try reading the book of John. Thank you soldier, Your friend in Christ, Donna

10:18 AM  
Blogger Army Wife said...

I think this is the 4th post you have written that made me cry. Everytime I start to read one of these posts I want to stop, because they are painful to read...and I somehow feel like I am reading something I shouldn't. I am going to pray the days that are filled with this sort of pain are few. I also can't help think of my husbands 18 months over there...and I hope he knew I was his light and I was here waiting....

10:28 AM  
Blogger Toni said...

Michael - I didn't read the other comments cause I figured if I did I wouldn't leave a comment since they already had said what I'm going to say: That was so beautiful man. It so touched me. In it's sadness there was hope but when you were talking about wrapping God around you, that was so intimate. Thanks.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Maggie45 said...

Wow, Michael, this is so moving. Thank you so much, and thank you for serving our country so wonderfully.

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have that Johnny Cash cd. It's great, but it isn't necessarily the best thing to listen to when you're feeling depressed. (I'd recommend Switchfoot, "The Beautiful Letdown" and I'll even buy it for you.)
If you haven't already, you should see the video for the song "hurt" - it makes the song that much better.
Hang in there.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous membrain said...

I'm a big Johnny Cash fan because he sings as if he's speaking just to you. All four of the American Recording albums are brilliant. That is a powerful piece of writng youv'e just created. Thanks for everything. Stay as safe as you can.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails fame wrote those lyrics, Mr Cash was doing a cover of NIN's The Downward Spiral album.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Shukri said...

You have a talent for writing.

Regarding God and bringing God into the lives of the Iraqi's. They already have God. They pray five times a day. Regarding their condition: their state is not the worst in the world. So don't despair.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you.

2:03 AM  
Blogger Chevy Rose said...

I can't agree about Johnny Cash songs being that good for the soul unless you're already depressed. I hum "Onward Christian Soldiers" when I'm feeling down and it seems to bring me up to feeling strong again. I think I told you before that you have my guardian angel is with you on special assignment. He's watching over you and you have a lot of people here praying for your safe return. Get some rest. We are very proud of you. I'll send you the Houston Chronicle if you'll post your snailmail address.

3:05 AM  
Blogger TODD said...

It is no too often that we here in the US can acyually feel the hurt, thoughts and wishes of all of you there. Once again thank you for letting us peer into your world. Beautifully done troop.
Stay low shoot straight.....

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Karen Bristow said...

Dear Michael,
Thru the archives of time, few have put into words the thoughts and fears of many, as you have eloquently done here. I have just found you (your blogg)and after supporting our troops since before the beginning of this, I have yet to meet one soldier whom does not deserve the title "hero". I want to thank you - from the bottom of my heart - for what you have sacrificed for us(all of us) and for your struggles and your triumphs. You are in my thoughts and prayers and certainly never to be forgotten. God's Speed, soldier. Stay safe. Karen Bristow

3:49 PM  
Blogger angryeagle said...

Dear Sir,

Here are a few other things Johnny Cash knows well:

1. "Come to Me all yhou who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (-Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30)

"I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (-Jesus,Matthew 28:20b)

"Never will I leave, never will I forsake you." (God the Father, Hebrews 13:5b)

"The Spirit of the Lord is on Me because He has annointed Me tp preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (-Jesus, fulfilling Isaiah 61, Luke 4: 18-19.)

"The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; He is their stronghold in the time of trouble. The LORD helps tehm and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him." (-King David, Plams 37:39-40.)

Peace be with you, my brother.

11:34 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

My most fond memory of Johnny Cash is a low budget movie where he an another smokey mountain guy found themselves in the city. They were confused by the city life as one might imagine. One scene has Cash's character remember his youth and some of the campfire parties. He vividly recounted the smell of smoke in a young girls hair, he knowing glance as she danced around the fire...Sometimes it is too easy to focus on the complexities of the big city life and forget the tender moments that give this life it's beauty.
I wish for some beauty to come your way. May you be well....

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Beth said...

You don't know me, my name is Beth. I'm 15, I live in Tennessee. Your blog made me cry tonight when I came across it. I'll pray for you. God is with you, and I'll pray He gives you strength. I want to thank you for serving, your a better person than I. I couldn't imagine being so far from home, figthing, risking my life for people I dont know. I've not got the guts to even try it. I wish I had the words to express the gratitude I feel towards you and all others who serve. Tell the other guys you hang out with that I said thanks, and keep up the good work. God Bless everyone of you. I'm praying for you all.

10:17 PM  
Blogger devildog6771 said...

That was a heart wrenching accounting. Thank you for sharing you feelings and observations with us all. We are beginning to learn if we want to know what is going on in Iraq or Afghanistan, all we need to do is ignore the MSM and read the Mil Blogs.

Thank you so very much for all you share. Thank you and your fellow troops for all your sacrifices and those of your families.
Be safe and God be with you all.

2:27 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

I am certainly humbled by your desire to feel God around you in such a strange land like Iraq. The feeling is breif as you see the gift of a loving wife. America loves you. Please know that we are proud of the job you are doing and pray for your safe return daily. My eyes have been opened today through the sharing of your thoughts and I will never see war in the same way again.

12:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm sitting here in my office, living the life I lead bacause you and so many other soldiers have served our contry. I was listening to the same album this morning on my way to work and it reaches me too, but to read your account because I googled a Cash lyric was moving. Thank you for your service. All of thses posts should let you know that we at home respect the service of our troops. You're the guy Cash was singing for in so many ways, you don't want to be there you've got your doubts, but you're rugged and you'll do it. Because you're in touch with the realness around you and while you're unhappy now, you know the real deal, you're not distracted by the fluff and when you come home you've got your family, friends and a thankful community and you realize that they are what is really important. Best wishes, Jim.

5:31 PM  
Blogger exfbonnie said...

why is that my husband just remarked that that song 'hurt' that cash redid (sounds better then the orignal), is the song that kind of stood for everything, the way he felt, the words, when he got home from war. it said everything. except maybe he thought it meant something different. I didnt know Cash did a version of Bridge over troubledwater either, which is a very beautiful, hopeful song.

You are a good soldier. a very good soldier. the kind of person that could only make things grow. you are doing very good things for this world, and it only gives back.

2:27 AM  
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4:34 PM  

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