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An Old Friend
“You have been called forth by God to kill these people,” a gray-haired, bearded man rasped at the jittery, sweating younger man. “It is your duty to your religion, to your people. Do not let us down!” The small room off one of the busiest bazaars in the city was stifling, but not because of the heat or great amounts of dust floating about.
“But why do innocents have to die?” The question came out as a whisper, though it was meant to sound confident and strong.
“You dare question your elders? It is the will of God! The will of your Creator! Do you defy this will?” The accusation penetrated everything in its path, from the ramshackle walls of the room to the ramshackle mind of the younger man.
“Of course not! I was merely wondering—” His pathetic mumbling was cut off.
“I can see that you are nervous about this,” the older man wheezed, “and I can understand. But you fail to recognize how the people will praise your name! How God will ensure a glorious afterlife for you and your family! You should be proud that you were picked for such a task!” The elder man’s reasoning weighed heavily on the younger man. After several seconds of contemplation and silence, the response came.
“Very well, what would you have me do?”
Most stereotypes about private Catholic high schools contain some truth. The uniforms don’t fit right and feel doused with itching powder, you have to go to mass every other minute, the rules reek of dictatorship, and nuns in black habits seem to wait for you around ever corner with a meter stick. I should know, especially since I came from a public grade school to enter into such a foreign place. When I arrived I had little religious background; I was open, a blank slate waiting to be filled by new beliefs. I listened intently in the required theology class, I participated during mass, I was a good Catholic for the good part of two years. And then questions arose that were not answered; problems surfaced that elicited overzealous responses. This wasn’t just in school either, but in the Catholic Church at large. So I came to the decision that the Catholic faith was not for me and tried to hold a different belief than I was being “taught.” It was challenging to say the least.
In the midst of defending my decision, I stumbled upon the unavoidable question: what exactly do I believe? And so commenced the classic coming of age story: young boy believes one thing, finds out that he doesn’t believe that anymore, proceeds to try to find the correct thing or idea to believe in. Only, unlike in novels or movies, the answer did not come to me for a long time. School and athletics took my time and concentration away and I was muddled in everyday life. Eventually, another required class approached under the rubric of focus research. It was the beginning of senior year. The haze of summer still loomed over our heads and college pressures deflated whatever was left of our motivation and tolerance. And writing a 30-page research paper was the last thing on my mind. But the details started falling into place: the teacher was one of my favorites, I had a few friends in the class, and we could choose whatever topic we wanted. I chose to write on bioethics. I love science and philosophy, so it became a fun class, especially when I started to have long philosophical discussions with the teacher and another teacher well versed philosophy. The paper was a research project all right; instead of defending a thesis I was searching for my own ethical beliefs. Time flew by, and at the end of the semester I realized how important that class was to me. I had found my beliefs and hadn’t needed to rely on what the nuns with their sticks and priests with their sermons had tried to shove down my throat. The feeling wasn’t one of rebellion or of victory, but of the satisfaction of getting to know myself better.
Getting to know yourself is like getting to know an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time; you’ve almost forgotten what that friend looked like or what times you spent together, but then you meet them again and everything comes rushing back to you. After a moment or two of recollection, the new sets in. It may be in their appearance or in personality or in responses, but some change has occurred. The change I noticed in myself, how I matured and found my personality and beliefs, made me realize something very important. People should always try to think for themselves. So often are we influenced by the media, our leaders, our family, our friends, our peers, our teachers, our bosses, and others that try to tell us what to do or how to think. I believe a great majority of people act without consulting themselves, since there is always some form of pressure affecting our decisions.
“Our mission is to storm this town and try to locate the terrorist base that our intel says is here.” The overenthusiastic general hits a spot on a map with great importance, “This mission is top priority. If anyone gets in the way, you are to neutralize them and continue on. We will be approaching from the north and … yes, what is it sergeant?” The lone hand of an older man among a crowd of soldiers drops quickly from the air and a steady, wizened voice fills the bare, gray, militaristic room.
“Sir, did I hear you correctly when you said ‘If anyone gets in the way, you are to neutralize them?’” The question made the room uneasy as the soldiers waited for an angry response from those in charge.
“Yes, you did, sergeant. Now if you would kindly let me get back to the mission…” The general, as impatient as a young boy, shooed away the question, sending it bouncing back over the heads of the soldiers in the room.
The quick, intelligent reply came, “Does that include innocents, sir? That seems a little…”
“A little what, sergeant?” The general beginning to let his anger show, “We’re in a war right now, and we need to take out this base for the good of the nation. If that means a couple of civilians must die, then so be it.” The meaning of such a statement commanded a silence that only the questioner was willing to break.
“But what? Does killing them conflict with you morals, sergeant?” The general spat the word out, as if it tasted like something that had rotted long ago. “Because if it does, I can have your ass dishonorably discharged faster than you can say insubordination.”
Unwilling to go further, the soldier replied, “…No, sir. No problem here, sir.”
Your beliefs, ethics, and opinions not only determine what you do, but also define who you are. I believe there are many instances where people are pressured or forced into becoming people they aren’t and doing things they normally wouldn’t. I faced a pressure in high school to believe something I didn’t, but I formed my own beliefs and found happiness in who I was. I hope that men and women pressured into terrible situations have the strength to maintain their own beliefs and opinions in the face of adversity. Because who knows, one person might make one less war or one less tragedy that the world could do without.