Sunday, July 15, 2012

Private Ryan

They say the book of Job is the oldest book in the Bible. Whatever your take on this piece of literature, whether divinely inspired or one man's remarkable effort to make sense of the universe, this book about the sufferings of Job is an incredible achievement.

The first chapter sets it up. Picture a theater with a lower stage and an upper stage. Job, his family and friends live in the lower stage. Theater goers see that God resides in the upper stage, but Job is unaware of what is going on there, a transaction between God and Satan. 

The story moves to the lower stage and we see Job smitten, but he remains faithful to God.

The next scene is back at the upper stage and we see Satan asking for permission to cause yet more suffering. Satan says, in essence, to God, "Job loves you because everything is going his way. God, you turn off the faucet of blessing and you will see Job turn his back on you because the core of this man is like all men. People are fair weather friends. People are basically selfish."

Once again even greater tragedy and suffering befall this man, with the result that he is destitute, covered with sores, sitting on a dung heap. All this occurs at the very beginning of this remarkable story. In literary lingo it would be called the setup.

There is a sense in which Steven Spielberg's potent war drama Saving Private Ryan becomes art by becoming metaphorical in the arc of its storyline. My poem Private Ryan will have no meaning without seeing the film or having a basic understanding of the story, so I will attempt to briefly summarize.

SPOILER ALERT

The context for the film is D-Day, the Normandy beachhead, and its aftermath. Tom Hanks is Captain John Miller, a soldier who leads his platoon into the bloodbath chaos that is war. Rated R for "intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence" is an understatement. One difference between the realistically graphic landing and real life is that in twenty minutes the film version of the Normandy landing was completed. 

Meanwhile back in Washington another scene is taking place. It is learned that a mother with four sons in the service has lost three of her boys. The fourth is somewhere in France. After the beachhead has been secured, and long before the war is over, Capt. John H. Miller is handed a new mission. He must find Private James Francis Ryan and bring him home. Like the story of Job, this is the setup. The rest of the film is about the challenges of completing the mission.

It's a costly mission, and in the end Capt. Miller is forced to sacrifice his life to save the young private. He knew what he had to do, and he did it, but he also wanted Private Ryan to understand the importance of his actions. His last words to Pvt. James F. Ryan were these: "Earn this."
 
Private Ryan

He understood the burden for
He carried it all his life.
A man had died to save him,
And for what?
He was nothing but a man.

One day he returned to France
To thank the man who died;
He wept, wept deep and deeper still,
His family by his side.
“Did I live a life that was worthy
Of what you did for me?”

As the wind swept through the gravestones,
No voice was ever heard;
The universe was silent…
It never said a word
And the bones where Ryan knelt that day
Were silent ‘neath the sod.

But Ryan knew what happened
On the day his life was spared.
A man had given his life for him
And he knew to make it count
He’d have to sacrifice his own,
Give back the same amount.

e. 
July 2012

1 comment:

linda.gratefulone said...

This is a very moving poem...it brought to mind the great love that God has for us...me...you...ennyman...ennywoman. If we can see this great act of love lived out in man, why is it so hard to believe that God, our Creator gave the same sacrifice?