This story is inspired by true characters and events. Dimataling, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines, early 70s. The place is a “no man’s land” of Christian soldiers and Muslim rebels killing each other. Sister Josephine of the Medical Mission Sisters stays on to service the health needs of both Christian and Muslim civilians. How does she deal with a crazed soldier with combat fatigue?.
eastwind journals, April 4, 2022 (archives tr92)
By Bernie V. Lopez, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Sr. Jo is joined by a six-foot Belgian Columban priest, Father Sean. At the chapel, while praying, she notices a tiny mouse. She climbs up the pew. Her scream can be heard in the distant Muslim sector. Fr. Sean runs to the rescue, shooing the mouse away.
Sergeant Toto staggers out into the streets, dead drunk. He fires his armalite into the air. Everyone scampers to their homes. Windows and doors are quickly slammed shut (dialogue reconstructed in English).
FR. SEAN – It’s that stupid sergeant, dead drunk again. Stay here, sister. I will take care of him.
SR. JO – (Quickly going out and slamming the door on Fr. Sean’s face). Father, I will take care of this. He won’t touch me because we are both Ilonggos. Foreigners are barbecued here by both Christian and Muslim fanatics.
The tiny four-and-a-half foot nun, easily frightened by a tiny mouse, goes straight without hesitation to the tall drunk soldier, who by now is loading a new magazine. Sr. Jo shouts in the Ilonggo dialect, hands on hips.
SR. JO – You should be ashamed of yourself, scaring people. They are not the enemy. You want to kill someone, go to the Muslim sector. (Sgt. Toto points the gun in reflex at Sr. Jo.) Go ahead. Kill me so that Lieutenant Reyes will roast you like a pig.
SGT. TOTO – (Head bowed in shame, sobbing). I can’t stand it anymore, sister. I want to die.
SR. JO – (Putting a hand on his shoulder.) Okay, okay, put that gun away. Come, let’s sit and talk.
They sit on a bench outside the village store. Windows start to open. Sgt. Toto whips out a flat bottle of rum, but before he can take a swig, Sr. Jo grabs it and takes a long swig. She retches and almost throws up. They both laugh.
SR. JO – I need this more than you, but what is it, unleaded gas?
SGT. TOTO – I miss my baby. She’s just two years old.
SR. JO – Go ahead. Let it out. The more you keep it inside, the more you finish magazines into the air. Tears are easier to shed than bullets.
SGT. TOTO – Did you not get scared when I pointed my gun at you?
SR. JO – Not really. Lt. Reyes speaks highly of you. But he knows you got a problem. He calls it battle fatigue. I call it bottle fatigue. How long have you been in the war zone?
SGT. TOTO – Eight months.SR. JO = I’ve been here three years.
SGT. TOTO – But you don’t face the enemy.
SR. JO – I do. I bandage their wounds. What’s more face-to-face than that?
SGT. TOTO – Aha, you are the nun who helps the enemy. Everyone’s talking about you in Pagadian. You’re a legend in the 6th Infantry Brigade. They idolize you.
SR. JO – They are your enemy, not mine. (Sr. Jo grabs the bottle, takes a swig and retches once more.)
SGT. TOTO – Thank you sister for relieving my pain. Now, I am beginning to understand your world. I wish I can visit your world often. In my world, I am ready to explode.
SR. JO – You are there right now, Sarge, in my inner garden, right this moment. You are welcome anytime. But you must understand, you have your own inner garden. I know this from the way Lt. Reyes talks about you.
SGT. TOTO – Yes, that long lost inner garden, I must find it again.
SR. JO – You have rediscovered it just now.
Sgt. Toto and Sr. Jo become the best of friends. Sgt. Toto would enter her inner garden many times in that no-man’s-land which has surprisingly many inner gardens hidden among the violence and the hatred. Sr. Jo also enters Sgt. Toto’s inner garden and that gives her comfort.
A tiny nun scared of a tiny mouse but not of drunk violent soldiers is the essence of valor. People stumble into her inner garden – rebel commanders, battle-fatigued sergeants, wounded lieutenants, and she comforts them as much as they comfort her. She manages to stay sane by reaching to rebels and soldiers.
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