My brother is two and a half years older than I am. While that means a lot of different things, one of the things it means is that he started getting mailings from the various Armed Forces a lot earlier than I did. Unfortunately for him, the Army was always offering him all these what I thought were neat things for him to request more information. A seventh grader thinks a pair of wristbands or a T-shirt is infinitely cooler than a high schooler thinks they are. So, since he could get these cool things for requesting more information and I couldn’t, I would sometimes send the postcards back. In a few weeks, the bundle of more information would arrive at the house, along with whatever thing I thought was cool at the time.
What I did not understand at the time was that the arrival of the postcard at Army headquarters meant – to them – that my brother was interested in joining the Army. So, to follow up with the more information and the silly whatever, they would often call my brother. I remember him more than once saying on the phone, “Um, I’m sorry, but my brother actually sent that card in because he wanted the compass.” I think he even made me tell them once.
Seriously, though, what else were they expecting to have happen? The whole point of them offering the pencils and hats and carabiners was to pique someone’s interest and maybe hit on someone who thought, “okay, sure, why not?” and join up, all because of the little thing that got mailed along with the more info. I’m sure it happened all the time.
My brother never did join the army, and neither did I (I often considered it, but my fear of water kinda made that decision for me). I have long forgotten most of the Army-branded things we collected around the house, except for one: an Army flashlight.
It was cheaply rubberized and had a camouflage pattern, with a stark-white “ARMY” emblazoned on the handle. It was about six inches long, and there might have been a hole in the end of it to loop a cord through, I don’t remember exactly.
Like most of the Army stuff we got, it was fairly cheaply made, but it did work. Two AA batteries would give it enough juice to light the tiny bulb. Make no mistake – this was no Maglite, this was a pathetic attempt at impressing kids. Sure it worked on me, but it was still pathetic.
I remember this flashlight so vividly because it was so poor. My room at night was pitch black. We lived out in the country, so there were no streetlights providing a soft glow through my windowshades. Lights out meant lights out. I kept this flashlight by my bed, and if I needed to get up during the night, I would use it to light my way to the door of my room and to the stairs. Only it wasn’t a powerful enough flashlight to show me where the door was – seriously, this was a majorly poor flashlight. The only thing I could do was set out in the general direction of the door and point the flashlight at my feet. There was enough light to illuminate any obstacle that threatened to trip or maim me, even if I couldn’t see the doorway. By adjusting each footfall, I was eventually able to reach my goal.
I’m not sure what eventually happened to the flashlight. I suspect it just fell apart one day of its own accord. I have a couple of new little flashlights now, both of them have bright LEDs in them, and they more than light up where I need to go. But I still occasionally remember that old Army flashlight.
A couple of years after the flashlight had shuffled off this mortal coil, I had occasion to speak on the 105th verse of Psalm 119: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” The verse made a whole lot more sense to me after having that flashlight – as long as I set out in the generally-right direction and took care to take carefully-illuminated singular footsteps, I’d eventually get to where I needed to be.
I still have problems setting long-term specific goals, but I like to think that I carefully consider each next step, and I’m ever hopeful that I’ll end up where I’m supposed to.