Gentle Strength

What the student did was one of the mightiest, manliest sermons I've ever seen.

Ann Burke enjoys living in southern California, where the moon rises like a golden washtub over the hills, and pear trees blossom in winter with the first warm spell

The College Community post office had just been mopped as I gingerly started across it to my post office box. Preparing to go and turn the little brass dial according to the directions and reach for some letters teasing from behind the small glass window, I noticed a young veteran just entering the building.

He had a pleasant face—handsome, if I may say so— and a muscular strength that defied his crutches and the stump that remained of one leg.

Though the floor had not yet dried, he advanced, maneuvering deftly through the glass doors.

I should have warned quickly, “This floor is wet!” But I didn’t. Maybe I was wondering whether it would make any difference. I had never walked on rubbertipped crutches.

If there was any question, I soon knew the answer. It was the crutch on the side of the stump that slipped.

The veteran toppled—down onto the tender end of his stump. Hard.

On the floor he clutched at it and rocked back and forth, moaning. Once he looked up at me, and our eyes met.

What could I do? I shook my head dumbly, feeling sympathy such as I have never felt, then looked away. (Does a strong man want pity? Or does humiliation vie with pain? Perhaps it would be better not to see.)

Just then a student entered the post office. The two men did not seem to be acquainted. Nevertheless, the student dropped his load of books and knelt beside the veteran. Gently putting his arm around the suffering man’s shoulders, he murmured words of sympathy and patted him as tenderly as I have ever seen a mother soothe her son.

They stayed there together until the pain lessened. When it did, one man bent his strength to help the other up and back onto his crutches.

I have seen sentimentality. I have seen polished courtesy. And I have seen weakness. What I saw that day in the post office was none of the above. It was the quality which David the psalmist spoke of when he observed, “Your gentleness has made me great” (Psalm 18:35, NKJV).

I left the building, still hurting with the wounded and sickened by what I had witnessed, but warmed too. I felt blessed by one of the mightiest, manliest, greatest sermons I have ever seen.