Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God!
By Col Barry Cronin (USMC-Ret)
THANK GOD FOR LIFE'S DIRTY DISHES
I enjoy many fond and happy memories from my childhood growing up in a large, rambunctious, Irish family near Boston. Among my favorites, as incongruous as it may seem today, was the nightly ritual of cleaning up after the evening meal with the six-pack of noisy kids that was my brothers and sisters. Curiously, one of the most prominent trappings of this evening ritual was a small ceramic plaque hung by my mother directly over the kitchen sink. Inscribed on it was a simple little poem that went something like this…
Thanks God for dirty dishes;
They have a tale to tell.
While others may go hungry,
We’re eating very well.
With home and health and happiness,
I shouldn’t want to fuss,
‘cause by the stack of evidence,
God’s been good to us!
Simple yet profound, is it not? We American do have so much for which to be thankful. Think about it. Although there is hunger in this country and many poor children often
go without, as a general rule American expects three square meals every single days day. We even complain about the dishes afterwards!
But even with all those dirty dishes, we are seeing something disturbing. For those who may not know, a troublesome Marine under restriction is limited for the duration to place of duty, billeting, messing the worship including direct transit from one to another. That restriction is closely monitored with frequent checks and mandatory signing in. To break restriction invites dire consequences. Over the years after awarding restriction, I would always explain the process and then question the Marine to ensure he or she clearly understood what was expected. Where do you billet? Where do you work? Where I the chow hall? The Marine invariably answered these first three with little difficulty. When it came to the fourth question, however, I discovered a rather disturbing trend. Where do you worship?
Over the years, only one of those entire many Marine to whom I have posed that question identified an actual location. By the way, he turned out to be a very good Marine in the end. The rest responded more along these line:
I don’t worship, I don’t believe in the stuff,… I used to a long time ago but not anymore…I think it’s a waste of time,… I sleep in on Sunday morning,…It’s all just a crock…” and so forth. Some are downright arrogantly defiant in their responses. Others are merely indifferent. I thought it odd (and still do) when hearing that sort of stuff; so I always make it a point of suggesting that perhaps they may want to try it out in the upcoming weekend, if nothing else it’s, another opportunity to get out of the barracks for a while. Inspiring. What struck home in my mind most of all was the concept of the MEPS pyramid. MEPS stands for mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. The two upright portions of the pyramid are the mental and physical aspects of life. In the center, trying all the others together is the emotional side of our existence. The base of the pyramid, the foundation for the whole thing, is the spiritual. A balance MEP’S pyramid is absolutely necessary if we truly expect to live personal lives and lead Marines, guided and inspired by our core values, of honor; courage, and commitment.
It is no coincidence that the base of the MEPS pyramid, the foundation upon which our existence stands, is spiritual. Consider the obvious analogies. The finest bridge in the world would quickly collapse were it not build upon a solid foundation. The same holds true for any building or skyscraper. The base of the structure must be solidly established before construction of the remainder of the building can ever commence. Notice also that once completed, that critical foundation upon which the rest of the building stands is, more often than not, invisible – totally hidden from view. We marvel at the wonder of the completed project, not even thinking about the massive and complex base foundation below.
Marines are not unlike those remarkable feats of engineering. Without that solid spiritual foundation, they are at risk. They wobble and sway when the winds of temptation blow.
But even when those dirty dishes are we really getting all the nourishment we require? The shelves of our markets and groceries are full of the best food money can buy. Restaurants and eateries of infinite variety are conveniently located within a short drive of just about anywhere nowadays, Ubiquitous vending machine flourish. Food is everywhere. The answer seems clear. We have the dirty dishes to prove it, right?
Wrong. There is a famine of alarming proportions in our Corps today. Marines are starving all around us. Most of them don’t even know it.
I see hungry Marines every single day. Before the expiation, however, some background is in order. I enjoyed the honor of commanding Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Corps Base Quantico. I am told, per the number of personnel administratively assigned, it is the largest battalion in the Corps. Whether that is in fact the case or not, it is nonetheless a very large organization. Among my numerous responsibilities as the commanding officer is the necessary yet dreadful task of administering discipline. Dreadful in the sense that punishing a loved one is painful business. Ask any parent. Don’t scoff now. The analogy is a perfectly valid one. Any commander who does not genuinely love Marines has no business in the job. As for myself, I have had the genuine fortune of commanding and leading Marines throughout my entire career at every rank, years of leadership in both peacetime and conflict. As a commander, more Marines thank I care to number have stood in front of my desk at several venues over the years for disciplinary infractions of one sort or another. Accept this; the raison d’ etre for this particular article is solidly based on years of empirical evidence. All of those many troubled Marines, with one notable exception, had one thing in common. They were malnourished.
Now to the explanation. In my experience, one of the most effective punishments that can be awarded, short of confinement, is that of restriction. For the……
I am neither a chaplain nor a trained spiritual counselor. As far as I am personally concerned, truth is truth and it can be found in more than one place. Rather, I refer the Marine to the chaplain for professional advice and assistance in this matter. What I do suggest to the young transgressor is that perhaps there may be a direct correlation between the absence of apparent spirituality and his or her current disciplinary problems.
To illustrate the point, I usually take a few moments toward the end of the disciplinary proceedings to describe the human being as a complex creation of interdependent systems. For example, the physical body requires regular sustenance to keep it functioning and healthy. A body that is not fed properly begins to wither, languish and fail. The same principle applies to the mental side of our existence as well. To become and remain keen, the human mind must be regularly exercised with intellectual stimulation. Daily reading is probably one of the best and easiest ways to feed the mind and keep it healthy. Human emotions are another facet of our existence that must be fed to remain healthy. Wholesome, regular human interaction is in my mind the simplest way to feed the emotions and stay balance. And finally, there is the spiritual side of the human experience. This is where you will find all of those starving Marines. I tell you this, Anorexia of the spirit flourished within our Corps Today.
I recently had the distinct pleasure of hearing MGen. T. S. Jones, former commanding general of Training and Education Command, speak at a graduation ceremony for the Marine Corps. Martial Arts Program Instructor/Trainer Course. Although the general covered a number of topics briefly, more than a couple of which involved humorous anecdotes, the principle focus of his talk was the subject of character development and its relation to MCMAP and the Corps as a whole. Presented in the general’s altogether unique rapid-fire delivery, it was riveting, profound, and genuinely more likely to engage in wrongful behavior. The finest physical specimen without a moral compass risks getting lost. The same holds true for that exceptionally intelligent Marine or the emotionally healthy, popular, and well-like Devil Dog., Without that spiritual roadmap, they too can easily find themselves going in the wrong direction. They are spiritually malnourished. By the way of contrast, a Marine with a strong spiritual base is far less likely to engage is questionable behavior. He or she is better able to discern between right and wrong. He or she is less likely to do drugs, hurt others, steal, or violate the law. He or she rarely visit the “old man” under adverse circumstances. The bottom line is this: Marines who sits in the pews don’t stand in front of the desk!
All of that said, how exactly does one feed the spirit? Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers on that particular subject, although regular worship, prayer, and contemplative meditation are probably good starts. Acts of charity and kindness towards others are pretty good things to do, also. Doing one’s best to live in accordance with our core values can certainly help. Staying away from the trouble makers and malcontents will definitely reduce the risk. Instead, make a pint to hang around with good Marines. Trust me. There are plenty of them out there. Their admirable qualities will soon begin to rub off. I’m sure there is a lot more to it. I am just an amateur on this. For comprehensive personal guidance, the command Chaplain is the real expert. Start your spiritual journey there. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing us all however is getting Marine to even acknowledge the existence of their own spirituality in the first place. That I don’t know how to do.
Some readers will undoubtedly dismiss this entire article as idle conjecture, wishful thinking, or just plain crummy journalism on my part. Where is the proof of this spiritual malnourishment, you ask? They easy! Come visit, on any given day, it is standing right in front of my desk!