Monday, September 22, 2014

The touch of the Master's hand

During the Vietnam War, I enlisted in the Naval Reserve and was sent to boot camp at the SeaBee base in Davisville, RI. Usually 8 weeks long, my training was compressed into two weeks, and they were busy. First we all got physicals, shots, a buzz cut and a duffel bag of Government Issue uniforms. The swimming test was simple. You climbed to a high diving board and jumped into the pool. If you could swim, you swam when you hit the water. Some recruits who could not swim actually vomited while climbing to the diving board. But they had to jump anyway. When a ship is sinking, there are no other choices. Those who couldn't doggie-paddle out of the pool were thrown a life preserver, and assigned evening swimming lessons.

Trivial stuff was important at boot camp. During inspection each day, bunks were checked to see if the sheets and blanket were folded into "hospital corners." Was the top blanket tight enough to bounce a nickel? Did our shoes shine like mirrors? No dust under the bed?

We never moved between buildings except in formation. "Fall in!" "Dress right, dress!" "Forward march!" "Column right!" "Mark time!" "Halt." got us from the barracks to the mess hall for three DELICIOUS meals each day.

Most days were filled with military classes and marching on the drill field. But a special highlight was the gas chamber. To help us understand how useful a gas mask is, we were ordered to put one on and march into a cabin filled with tear gas. None of us felt any discomfort. Then we were ordered to removed our mask and say our name, rank and serial number before exiting. Without the mask, we could hardly breathe. It was a lesson we'd never forget.

With no free time at all, we all looked forward to mandatory chapel on Sunday morning. The pastor was used to preaching to raw recruits. His recited a poem written in 1921 by Myra B. Welch. It's called "The Touch of the Master's Hand." I never forgot it. Here it is.

'Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.
"What am I bid, good people", he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?"
"One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?"
"Two dollars, who makes it three?"
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,"
But, No,
From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as an angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with it's bow.
"One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?"
"Two thousand, Who makes it three?"
"Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone", said he.
The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand."
"What changed its' worth?"
Swift came the reply.
"The touch of the Master's hand."

As we rose to sing the Navy Hymn, I was grateful for the reminder that any life, even mine, becomes priceless when touched by the Master's hand.

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