Christ in Winter: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…
After church a couple of Sundays ago, Scott Shrode asked me if I had known Jim Heady. Yes, I had not heard his name for a long time, but I did know him, though not well. We were both preachers in the Indiana Conference of the Methodist Church when I first started in ministry, but he was a generation ahead of me. Then I transferred to the Central IL Conference and lost touch with most of the Indiana preachers.
His full name was James Truman Heady, and he had been a soldier in WWII.
When I was just starting out in the ministry, in the mid 1950s, we had quite a few clergy members who had served in the military in WWII. They didn’t talk much about it, but sometimes you knew, because they were missing limbs, or walked funny. Dick Thistle of City Church in Gary could walk only with difficulty, with braces. He had been a Flying Fortress pilot and had been shot down.
I had never known Jim Heady’s story until Scott told me Sunday. Jim had been a German prisoner of war. He was in an especially bad concentration camp. He was a tall man, who had been starved down to a little over a hundred pounds and was often beaten and humiliated. He grew to hate his sadistic captors, the Nazis, Adolf Hitler, all Germans. Except “hate” was too mild a word. He hated them with a rage he couldn’t even express.
As the war became more and more desperate, the German guards began to retreat, with the prisoners, away from the Russians, whom they feared more than the Allies. They had to go fast, and Jim couldn’t. So they just left him in the road, to die.
A family found him. A husband and wife, with three daughters. The war had raged around them, they had nothing, but they took him in and nursed him back to life. In his dazed condition, he thought he was with them only three days. It was much, much longer.
When they were able to turn him over to the Allies, he realized that all his hate was gone. The Nazis were still the Nazis, the Germans still the Germans, war was still hell, he had still suffered so much. None of that was deniable. But he saw life in a different way, because of the compassion, against difficult odds, of that family that saved him.
At first I didn’t want to stop to listen to Scott. I had promised to give a a new woman in the church a ride to Panera’s, because her car had broken down. She is new to town as well as to the church, and doesn’t know very many people, at least none as manipulatable as me, and she’s quite a handful to deal with, and I wanted to make the trip to Panera as quickly and efficiently as possible, so I could get home to watch the Reds on TV, but as I listened to Scott tell the story of Jim, I learned once again: when you get a chance to hear a story, listen.
“Any sorrow can be borne if a story can be told about it.” Izak Dinesen [Karen Blixen]