During World War II, my grandfather was stationed on a remote mountain in The Middle of Nowhere, China to work with a group of Chinese trainees. Being in the downtown of oblivion, the night times grew to be extremely dark, pitch black. The only source of light for the soldiers during nightfall was a small oil lamp located in the center of the group of tents that made up their base. Flashlights were out of the question since the military at the time was tight with their checkbook.
At the foot of the mountain was a grave site in which all the bones within the graves had been dug out and transferred to another area. This was done so that if anyone was to come and attack their camp upon the mountain, they would first have to go through this mass area with a myriad of six feet deep ditches. During the day, walking past this area was not too much of a hassle, maybe just a few goosebumps. But when the night steadily came, walking through the empty graves became more problematic as the darkness induced the worst from one’s imagination, there was the chance of accidentally falling in and getting injured, and did I mention it was dark?
As a young translator then, my grandfather was a man of the faith. Because of his convictions, he found it necessary for himself to join a Bible study group that met together at the foot of the mountain just someways past the graveyard. The Bible study was once a week and started when all the soldiers were finished with their responsibilities, when the sun was still out, and ended when the night had fallen. Though these studies gave my grandfather great insight and a sense of community and comfort under a tense and precarious context, it presented the conundrum of returning to camp. My grandfather had two choices, he could, with his horse drawn wagon, take an exceedingly long trek along a path that wrapped around the mountain thus returning to base overly tired and late in the night or he could take a direct route through the devilish dark graveyard turned defense mechanism. On most nights, my grandfather chose to brave through the latter.
In order to return to base via the defense mechanism, it required courage. The mind had to fight against its own imagination. One had to travel on his horse drawn wagon s-l-o-w-l-y trying, hoping to avoid falling into the ditches. But most importantly, there was the guiding light in the center of camp. You had to no matter what – wading through the darkness, running from your warring imagination, watching out for ditches – follow that light.
And now, after more than sixty years since living in that camp, my grandfather still ruminates on how he needed that dinky little oil lamp, his guiding light. How he needed to follow it carefully wit his full attention. And how he is still following it.