Friday, April 26, 2013

Code Talker -- Book Review or Vicarious Experience?

My father volunteered in the Army during World War II, serving in the South Pacific. My mother was an Aerographer's Mate in the Navy and helped crack an enemy weather code. Those two sentences sum up almost everything I know about their experiences. I'm very grateful for their service, but wish I had a better understanding of what they did and what it was like.

Chester Nez grew up in the Checkerboard area of New Mexico, herding sheep and goats, living a pretty traditional Navajo life in the 1920's and 1930's. No electricity, no running water, sleeping under the stars while roaming with the grazing animals, he appreciated life and honored his elders. Then came boarding school.

Because it was deemed necessary for Navajo kids to learn English, Chester and his siblings ended up having to leave the sheep and goats and the secure familiarity of the hogan for the alien discomforts of live-in elementary and secondary schools. Nothing in his life seemed easy, but Chester held firmly to the values and beliefs taught by his father and grandmother. He learned to remember the small joys and look for beauty wherever it might be found.

During the beginning stages of WWII, it was realized that a super-sophisticated code might be created using the unwritten and little-known language of the Navajo nation. Chester and many other young men volunteered for a "special project" in the Marine Corps, and the Code Talkers were born.

Chester was involved in the battles of Guadalcanal, Guam, Peleiu, Bougainville, and Angaur. The conditions were awful and even horrific. The odds were often significantly against the US troops. Although most (if not all) of the other Marines got occasional R&R away from the front lines, the Code Talkers were an absolutely vital piece of our strategic success and could not be spared for even a few days' respite. Those hard times back on the Checkerboard, sleeping on the ground and going for days without fresh food or any comforts of home, made the Navajos able to be survivors.

I listened to this book as an audio, and the reader (David Colacci) became Chester Nez for me. His pronunciations of Navajo names and words, as well as his careful use of emotional voice, brought the story to life. Although it was difficult to hear accounts of the treatment of Native Americans of that time, I appreciated their resiliency of spirit and commitment to their family values. Survivors.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is This Hyperbole, or am I Exaggerating?

No personal photos this time. I was too busy driving -- and gawking. I attended a meeting on Mercer Island this week, and had to arrive early so I could find the place. This being only my second time ever on The Island, I had a good look around.

I've heard that "island life" is a little different, no matter what island it is. There's the whole transportation thing, having to rely on ferries or bridges to get to the mainland. Seems like that would make you consider the necessity of each trip and consolidate off-island errands whenever possible. Then, when you're on the island, make the most of its quieter, slower pace.

Methinks Mercer Island has the "slower pace" thing nailed down. (Here's where the hyperbole comes.) The highest speed limit I found was a mere 35 mph. Residential streets were narrow and they  *ALL*  had speed bumps! Everywhere, speed bumps! The winding road that circles the southern two-thirds of the island had to be shared with bicycles, but they were going nearly the speed limit so it wasn't really advantageous to pass them even if you could find a wide enough place to do so.

Some of the homes were very upscale, set into the woods for a natural effect or surrounded by meticulously groomed gardens. One house was perched on the edge of a gully, road on one side and steep drop-off on the other. No grass to mow there!

All of this made me think about how the location and situation of your home has much to do with your lifestyle. If you live in the city, you've got people and traffic and busy-ness all around, all the time. Out in the country on acreage, there's a necessary degree of self-sufficiency. The suburbs? Well, I guess I have some of the hustle and bustle but not the easy public transportation of the city, and a little space but more access to consumer conveniences than the country. Middle ground.

Another lifestyle consideration is participation in community. The closer you are to people (geographically), the more you are a part of their lives as you see one another frequently. Country life benefits from neighborly interdependence, but maybe there's more intentionality required.

I enjoy reading a blog by a Canadian gal living "in community" in Amsterdam. She and her husband live in an apartment, but she is very much a part of a close-knit group of Christians who are committed to sharing their lives together. Interdependence is a balance, and Brenda occasionally shares in some detail what it means to be part of a wholly intentional community.

Thanks for reading my ponderings this morning.