Warriors in the Rain

My dad was one of the survivors when a Japanese bomb sank the American aircraft carrier Princeton on Oct. 24, 1944. Naturally, he came home with very specific ideas about the Japanese. And, just as naturally, those ideas took root in the soil of our family.

Twenty-seven years later, my wife and I took my parents on a vacation to Japan. Although Dad seemed happy to be going, he grew increasingly somber as we traversed the country. I did not realize the full meaning of his journey into the heartland of a still-vivid enemy.

After one day of sightseeing, we all emerged from the subway at Tokyo’s Akasaka Station into a heavy rain. With no umbrellas, we faced a walk in the downpour to our hotel, which was two blocks away.

Immediately, a well-dressed Japanese businessman came up behind my parents and held his umbrella over them. He got drenched as he graciously and silently walked them all the way to our hotel. When we were all under the portico, he simply bowed and walked away. Dad shouted, “No, no, come back.” The man turned and walked back to Dad.

In that moment, those two men — clearly about the same age and undoubtedly veterans of the same war — stood face to face and shook hands. Neither said a word. But volumes passed between the eyes of the old warriors; each knew that he knew that he knew.

The son of one of those warriors saw it all. And what I saw that day in a Tokyo rainstorm changed me deeply. Things I had long assumed, things my father had conveyed to me, took a mortal hit that day. Over time, they totally fell apart.

More than 40 years later, that incident continues to speak to me.

I think part of the reason that moment was so life-altering was that no one was trying to change, or even enlighten anyone. An unrehearsed real-life moment had simply produced an updraft that carried its participants above and beyond some old bigotries. The moment gathered its power from its purity and spontaneity.

Although education is one of the basic functions of civilization, life’s most educating moments are nearly always unplanned. They remain free of human design. Life has a way of teaching its own lessons. It doesn’t need human torque.

When humans work at changing other humans, the result is inevitably dehumanizing. Whether the changers are left-wingers or right-wingers, believers or infidels, dreamers or scoffers, whether they are motivated by sales or by God, the message comes through loud and clear: Respect is contingent on purchase. Human value is subject to someone buying someone else’s concepts or commodities.

The movie The Big Kahuna features three industrial lubricant salesmen — Larry (Kevin Spacey), Phil (Danny DeVito) and the evangelical Christian Bob (Peter Facinelli) — at a convention in Wichita. In one very penetrating scene, Phil tells Bob:

“You preaching Jesus is no different than Larry, or anybody else, preaching lubricants. It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha, or civil rights or how to make money in real estate with no money down. That doesn’t make you a human being. It makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids, find out what his dreams are — just to find out — for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation, to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore — it’s a pitch — and you’re not a human being. You’re a marketing rep.”

That scene goes to the heart of what it means to be human. On what basis do we grant respect and value? Is intellectual agreement a prerequisite to friendship? Must we remake people before we can love them?

Or can we, like a Japanese warrior I once observed, step out of our bunkers in order to be genuinely compassionate to those who are different (and who may even have tried to kill us)?

As far as I can tell, very little (if any) serious change is wrought by human planning and force. Real change occurs when a serendipitous something — a birth, a death, an act of kindness, an act of brutality, a moment in the rain — pushes us out of the smallness of our world into larger truths.

“Love your enemies” is not a harmless and naive religious platitude — it is one of the largest truths in history. Embracing it carries us beyond our own borders and connects us to a larger revelation of what it means to be human.

24 thoughts on “Warriors in the Rain”

  1. Ed, The husband of Dorothy’s company HR manager is an animal rights activist and a devout liberal. He calls me an elk murderer. We enjoy each other’s company. At the company retreats we seek each other out. He is one of the funniest people I know and I enjoy the time I spend with him. We don’t try to change each other. Thanks for your words. Bob

  2. What an eye opener that even when selling Jesus you are simply a “marketing rep.”
    What a wonderful story that “pushes us out of the smallness of our world and into larger truths.” Thanks, again, Ed for your luminous writing.

    1. Thank you, Mary Ann. Always so good to hear from you. You’re a delightful and insightful lady. Hope our paths cross again one of these days…like the next time you come to Nashville to work on a movie! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Vernon. You and Carl have lived this story with me. We know what it was to grow up in the shadow of the Princeton. This story is part of that shadow.

  3. I absolutely loved this, Ed. The history, the story, and your way with words… This has challenged me just as any daily devotional would. With so much hate in the world and media efforts to divide us/them, may I be someone who lives and befriends without seeing any differences. May my present actions speak louder than my words or my past. May my conversations not be “a pitch”, and may I exhibit sincere compassion because we are humans first. Thank you!

    1. Thank you Ed, what a beautiful story and point. People are such a treasure trove of life experiences. I often just stop people and strike up a conversation with them. It’s easy, just drop in a penny and they will share many-a-tale about themselves, and some of their stories are quite interesting and valuable. It’s too bad that our culture doesn’t cultivate interest in our older, wiser neighbors. Thanks for this one.

  4. Reading your remembrances of this day each year causes me to be thankful for the many ways directly and indirectly it has impacted my life. You and your family have made a difference in mine and now we have actually become family with yours. Wonderful story with so much significance. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Our world pines for authenticity, doesn’t it? The opulence, the fake, the pitch turns us away, but the genuine, the unsolicited spontaneous kindness, the word aptly spoken, draws us toward. If we could only live our lives in that kind of authentic, loving honesty, our world could be redeemed. Thank you, Ed, for a thought-provoking, inspiring piece of literature. I am richer for having read it.

  6. Thanks, Ed.

    I saw similar events in Germany in the 1950’s. If wars could be reduces to people versus people they might become obsolete!


  7. Ed, this is one of the most moving articles I’ve read in some time… and one of the most thought provoking.
    I’ve shared it extensively, forwarding your email to many on my list as the perspective on evangelism is paradigm altering for most of us.

    I appreciate you and your writing so much!

  8. Ed,

    This is one of the best articles you have ever written. You are spot on with your comments. If only we could grasp your message as a community, nation, and world —What a change would take place. Thank you,

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top