Several weeks ago I watched the recently released movie “Taking Chance.” It is the true story of a marine who escorts the body of Chance Phelps, a soldier killed in Iraq on April 9, 2004 from Dover, Delaware AFB to his final resting place in Wyoming. My boyfriend Douglas requested that I watch it with him; he is an Iraqi War Veteran on his way to Afghanistan. He is trying to help me understand the concept of “honor.”
For those of you who have had me for an instructor, you would probably agree that I am an irreverent teacher.
Don’t be mistaken, I do believe in human respect. I teach a junior-level seminar on human rights. I am passionate about the equal treatment of all human beings. I do not believe that anyone deserves more respect than another based on the inequalities of power, prestige, or access to resources. I can appreciate the time and energy it took to succeed in any one endeavor, but in the end we are all humans, and that is my criteria for respect. Period.
Douglas and I talk openly about his uncertain future regarding war. He has mentioned where he would like to be buried if he gets killed. His wishes are all very carefully outlined in documents that he has filled out for the Army.
Being the irreverent person that I am, I asked him that if he does come home in a box, and that if he is in viewable shape, if I could take a Sharpie and draw his mustache and goatee that the military does not allow him to have while he is in soldier. I requested this so that I would have a little control over the situation that would be taken out of my hands. To my surprise he said “no.” I had little insight into his lack of humor about this issue.
“Taking Chance” is about all of the effort that a Marine Lt. Col. Mike Strobl took to escort Chance’s remains to his final resting place in Dubois, Wyo. Strobl did not know Phelps, but felt it his duty to escort him home since they at one time lived in the same town in Colorado. Although the movie did little but chronicle Captain Strobl’s journey from Dover AFB to Dubois, the movie had great impact on me.
Based on actual protocol for escorting a body, “Taking Chance” was a great film for me to see because it taught me the lesson of “honor,” something that Douglas has been trying to teach me for over a year. I finally get it, and now I understand why he will not let me draw a mustache and a goatee on his face.
Besides learning about the military’s idea of “honor” the film made me think again how we honor people when they are still alive. I thought that if we afforded each other a fraction of the respect to each other while we were still alive, what a better world we would live in. In my idealistic way, I thought that there would not be wars to fight if we revered each other they way that a stranger could honor a dead man as portrayed in this movie.
Do me a favor, and for a day take note of how you treat people in your life, strangers included. Do you greet the people who serve you your meals? Do you take the time to say hello to the custodial staff on campus? How much energy do you put into people that you do know and love?
Do you understand the gravity of spending time and energy on other humans who are walking the Earth as the same time as you? Do me a favor and remember how important it is to honor each other while they are vertical and before they are resting in peace. Take a chance.
Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears biweekly Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.