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Jeff's Afghan Diary: Each Moment Counts
November 1, 2007

      I’ve been doing some more reading.  We came up to Waza Khwa to get some supplies and pick up our mail, and in the mail I found two books I had ordered online a few weeks ago: “The Red Badge of Courage,” by Stephen Crane, and “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl.  I’ve been wanting to read these books since I finished reading Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” which was written close to the time “The Red Badge of Courage” came out.

      I suppose the choice of books was instigated by my having a bit of “survivor’s guilt.”  Although I have been conscientious in my duties and have worked hard since I arrived, I have remained unscathed (except for my pinky finger), while others have died in the line of duty.  I’m not saying I wish I had died, but I do have some guilt about living while others did not.  Both of these books deal somewhat with the subject of life and death in wartime, from very different perspectives.

      This article is not a discussion about the books or their themes, other than what I have gained by reading them.  I recommend them both to my readers as classics.

      I wanted to read Crane’s book because I knew of the source of it’s title, coming from where Henry Fleming, Crane’s protagonist, thinks of the wounded Union Soldiers’ blood as being like a “red badge of courage.”  I think likewise.  George Washington thought so, too, about his Soldiers, and gave any man wounded in battle a strip of purple cloth as a badge of honor (the historic source of the Purple Heart medal).  Fleming, in the book, goes on to redeem an act of cowardice by showing great bravery, facing death itself and finding, “He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death.”  Death is merely death, and the Soldier must face and accept it as a part of battle.

      Frankl looks at death from a completely different perspective: that of a victim of war.  He endured years in Nazi concentration camps and saw death daily.  But instead of producing bitterness, Frankl found meaning in the human suffering he bore and witnessed.  I knew this was the theme of his book, and I was looking for meaning in what at times seems to be the random and useless suffering brought on by war, including this one.

      Frankl’s perspective on death is interesting: every moment we live, we die.  The moment is extinguished, gone forever, dead, never to be lived again.  Moment by moment passes into nonexistence – it is mere memory, no longer alive, dead, as it were.  Frankl urges each of us to become responsible for the actions of each moment, since our time is limited and finite.  He sees freedom and responsibility as two sides of the same coin – we cannot have one without the other, and all humans are born with both.  We cannot choose our circumstances, but we can choose our reactions, our outlook, and the meaning we give to each moment.

      Tomorrow I return to Do China.  I found out today that we will come back to Waza Khwa in early December to get ready to return home.  Much of this is due to transportation problems in this part of Afghanistan during the winter months – roads are muddy and impassable and helicopter traffic is severely restricted by winter storms. While I realize this is a problem, and leaving before winter is a practical solution, it upsets me to think I won’t have much time to train the ABP.  There will be much unfinished business left in Do China, and I hate unfinished business.  It feels too much like failure.

      So my time in Do China with the ABP is running out.  I know there will be more missions (likely on a smaller scale than the last one), more patrols, and there is still danger.  But the largest part of my own mission is behind me now, and I must accept that.  I must do what I can in the month remaining to teach what I can, do what I can, and leave behind what I can for them.  Each moment counts.

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.