Making a choice in the moment to do what feels 'right', even to risk or sacrifice one's own life, is an act of philotimo.
Soldier's Choice (Short Film on YouTube)
Although the titles and underlying messages are similar, the film pictured above and the story below are not the same. Click the photo for the YouTube video.
In the hills above Stanford University, a walking path meanders to the viewpoint at the top. It was a late afternoon when Kati and I made our way up the trail.
Weary from the day, we sat on a knoll to rest and watch the joggers, speed walkers and strollers as they followed the path. One woman we did not know gave us a greeting in passing.
She continued several paces then paused. We could see her consider. Then she turned around and came back to us.
“I’m sorry,” she started. “I just have a feeling I have to talk with you.”
We invited her to sit with us. She had the dark hair, eyes and complexion of a Persian.
At first her talk was about a recent happening in her life. We had the feeling she wasn’t sure yet what she needed to say.
Then, the energy between and around us shifted. We listened intently as she went into a story about one of her cousins in Iran.
He had been drafted into the military during a war with Iraq. While being trained to shoot and kill the ‘enemy,’ he reflected on it within himself.
His thoughts went to the families of the enemy soldiers, and what it would be like for them if he killed one of their men. How could he live with himself, knowing the grief he had brought upon them?
“If it were not for the geography and politics,” he considered, “I might share a beer with the man I am supposed to shoot.”
Then he was sent into battle. On his way to the front line, the thoughts kept swirling in his head. In the midst of a conflict, he found himself pointing his weapon at an Iraqi soldier, who also had him in his sights. They were close enough to see each others’ faces.
The Iranian made a choice in that moment and refused to kill another man. He did not shoot, and was shot. The bullet hit him in the shoulder and he went down.
From his hospital bed, he told the whole story to his cousin – the woman who was now telling it to us.
He added, “I do not blame the Iraqi. He was only doing what he was ordered to do. He could have killed me. He could have aimed for my heart. We were close enough, and he had me in his sights. I think he deliberately hit my shoulder so I would not die.”
After the telling of this story on the grassy knoll, Kati and I felt encompassed in a golden light as at times before in our lives. It felt to us that the universe was acknowledging the compassion and understanding of the soldier’s life-affirming choice.
A Soldier’s Choice
A man was called by duty to fight his country's war, a war between two governments, not on a distant shore.
No, this war was with a neighbor, with people like his own and the leaders made a battlefield of their hearth and home.
The army drafted him and told him he must kill the soldiers of the enemy, and for him this was no thrill.
His thoughts were of the men, the soldiers he would fight and of the ones they loved, on them a death would bite. They have sons and daughters like the dear ones that he knew, and they would grieve their father's loss if he did what he must do.
The feared attacking soldiers that he was told to kill have also wives and mothers whose hearts would be most ill
if he shot and killed their men, even though in self-defense and there would be no turning back, no way of recompense.
He felt his inner conflict ‘til he was face to face with an Iraqi soldier and then could find no space
to avoid this confrontation, he could only look inside. It was his moment of decision, there was no place to hide.
In the heated battle, they saw each other’s eyes and something in one soldier knew, it is more than blood that ties.
He saw that fighting’s not the way, there surely is another, and the soldier from the Persian land refused to shoot his brother.
The Iraqi fighter shot him and the bullet went in deep, but he lived to tell the story, and their mothers would not weep.
From the bed of his recovery, with family gathered round, the young man told his story of the treasure he had found.
It came from seeing clearly the Iraqi soldier's face and awakening to awareness that in another time and place
the two men could be closest friends and share a mug of beer. It was religion and the politics that had fed their fear.
Should we choose to serve those abusers of their power? If it's not time to take a stand, then when will be the hour?
The soldier from Iran who took a bullet to the shoulder is a message to all people to have courage, to be bolder
and make choices that are true and that will give new birth to hope for all humanity, with acts of peace on earth.
More to the Story
When Ali, the Iranian, told the story from his bed, he reflected on the soldier who could have shot him dead.
“The other man in combat did what he was told to do, I don’t blame him for his action, to his orders he was true.
“I am sure that in himself he would have made another choice than to hurt a human being, but he felt without a voice.”
“We saw each other’s eyes and he could have hit my heart, but he intended to not kill me, and for peace that is a start.”
As all about him listened to the story Ali told, I saw the spark of living truth in this man is bold
and wondered what would happen if each person saw the same and the higher human values every human sought to claim.