14

They were all my friends, and they died…

 –Jim Carroll 

            And so now it’s maybe a good time to talk about friendship.  What friendship really means, and what we do for it.  Because maybe David Threnody saved Johnny Tribout’s life that day in Bastogne, Christmas Day 1944.  He saved a little girl, the mother unknown.  He saved the church from the Goliath.  But he couldn’t save Johnny from dying someday, and this is the story of how Johnny Tribout died, years later, years after the war.  A story of what that friendship meant to David, and how it was construed.

            I guess I have to take something back.  I have to say something about survival, and whether it’s really good or bad.  Because it is both good and bad.  The story of David’s survival during the war and what he had to do to survive can’t really be seen as ugly—it can’t be construed as bad.  Not because he didn’t have to do ugly things, and not because he had to make choices that can’t be judged as bad.  Sometimes you have to make bad choices, wrong choices, because the other choices offered to you aren’t the lesser evil, and no matter what choice you make someone is going to get hurt.  In war, and in tough situations in life, there are necessary evils.  What makes them necessary is the substance of tragedy.  Some would say money is a necessary evil, in what you have to do for it.  Some would say rebellion to an authority you can’t condone is necessary and evil, and in unique cases you have to wonder if evil is actually good.  Sometimes you have to make bad decisions because regrettably they’re the best ones you can make.  And this is how survival can be seen as ugly and selfish, or heroic and brave.  In the war David had to kill people.  He had to kill other human beings to save human beings.  In order to save that church in Bastogne, in order to save Johnny Tribout and that little girl, human sacrifice had to be made.  And why this had to happen was beyond David, maybe even beyond any of us to understand.  We can explain it.  We can justify it.  But to the winner and the loser it is a different story.  If you have to hurt somebody to get what you want, what you need—survival can be seen as selfish and ugly.  If you have to hurt somebody to save somebody, to save an idea sacred to you—survival is justified by the human spirit—what must live on if we are to call ourselves human at all.  And so you have to be careful.  You can’t weigh your survival lightly.  It is a heavy burden, and down the road you will be judged in how you defended your actions, in why you made the choices you made in order to survive.  People were kind to David after his war experiences.  He was decorated for his actions at Bastogne.  And this haunted him, years later.  He remembered faces, faces of the dead, and despite everything he did he couldn’t stop the dying.  He couldn’t stop his friend from dying, which is why the story of how Johnny Tribout died must come now.

            It’s almost like you have a sign on your forehead.  All of us.  All of us have a sign on our forehead we can’t see.  Others can see, and you can see theirs, and we make bets on it, wagers on our confidence that what they see is not of lesser value than what you see.  We even make it a game.  A game we play with friends—Indian poker we call it—Blind Man’s Bluff.  And the question becomes: Can you keep a straight face?  Do you keep upping the ante when a friend is only showing the two of hearts?

 

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