Recently, I was privileged to hear veteran journalist Tom Brokaw speak at Lipscomb University, my alma mater. For over 50 years Brokaw has been one of the most visible and respected newsmen in the world. Like millions of Americans, I grew up watching him on NBC, and I was familiar with his presence and accomplishments. What surprised and touched me was his humanness and humility.
Raised in a working-class family in South Dakota to parents who survived the depression, Brokaw appeared older than his 78 years. He talked about his journey with a treatable, but incurable cancer that has slowed his gait and pace. More notably to me, he shared his passion about helping others access the excellent health care his position has allowed him to enjoy. The interview with Lipscomb president Dr. Randy Lowry, who joked about the irony of his interviewing Brokaw, was full of reminiscences of an astonishing life and career.
Most touching for me was Brokaw’s description of a simple armament issued to members of the 101 Airborne division before their landing on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Brokaw introduced the familiar story by painstakingly reaching into his pocket and retrieving a small object invisible to most of the audience when he held it up.
Then across the darkened space, we heard the sound. Click. Such a simple item. The device certainly wasn’t the powerful ships, aircraft, or weaponry that were involved in one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history. Yet the humble two-inch bit of metal, called both a “clicker” and a “cricket,” played a significant role in the ultimate victory.
Its purpose was to allow paratroopers to communicate in enemy territory and differentiate friend from foe. An isolated soldier would sound one Click and listen for the answering double Click-Click of an ally. Brokaw told the rapt audience that welcome response meant a friend was saying, “I’m here and I’m coming to help.”
Immediately, my eyes filled with tears and my breath caught in my throat. Unconsciously, my hands flew to my mouth in a visceral response. How desperately I’ve needed the assurance of a human Click at times! As I write, a series of personal pits and crises flood my mind, and I remember the pain of those dark nights of the soul. What I remember more, though, are the Click-Clicks of people God provided to respond.
At some point, all of us find ourselves flailing alone in the dark behind enemy lines, whether we are our own foe or the victims of something else. Either way, we are desperate for the reassuring Click that we are not alone. In those moments we need Jesus with skin on. We ache for the incarnation of presence and hope. Too often we (I) turn to a variety of foes, when what we (I) really crave is a safe responsive friend.
At the end of Brokaw’s sharing, after another hour of stories, he again laboriously reached into his pocket for the clicker, which he says he carries with him always. Speaking in a voice that felt more personal than it had before, the seasoned journalist reminded us about the calling of love that requires commitment and sacrifice. I thought of my opportunity to walk with a loved one also facing an incurable disease, and in the darkness, I reached out to take his hand. Then I thought of all the times my fear of or fraternization with a foe eeps me from being present for him or others.
Yes, humans have the promise of the Spirit with us always, but I confess that presence sometimes doesn’t feel enough. If I long for another warrior in the dark, I expect that you do, too. What if we became intentional, mindful, of the desperate Clicks around us? Responding doesn’t really take a lot.
Simply Click-Click and we’re connected in solidarity and support.
Marnie C. Ferree