I had gone for a walk in the woods but soon was lost.
“This is odd,” I thought to myself, “I know these woods like the back of my hand.”
I heard leaves crackling behind me and soon was joined by another man.
“Lost?” he enquired. “Come walk with me.”
“Why are you walking?” he asked. I confessed that I was just trying to get away from all the vexing chatter about our political problems. “It gives me a headache,” I said, “and I fear it’s only deepening our divide.” The man smiled and nodded his head.
Worried that this stranger was only getting us more lost, I asked him if he knew where he was going. “Oh yes,” he replied. “I have a compass.” “Well, which way is north?” I asked, a bit suspicious about his claim. “Oh, I don’t know,” he replied. “My compass only points upward. It’s a moral compass.”
We soon came upon a large lodge, a sign above the door saying “Heroes Hall.” This is really getting creepy, I mused to myself, as we entered the lodge, filled with people of all descriptions, men and women, young and old and of all races.
My friend seemed to know everyone and began introducing me. “This is Bill Evans,” he said, as I shook hands with a sturdy young man. “Bill’s a farm boy from Iowa. He led his unit onto Omaha Beach. He died there.”
“And this is Helen McCloskey. She died when hit by a stray bullet while binding up the wounds of a soldier — from the other side — on the battlefield at Gettysburg. And James Jeffers over there was with the Tuskegee Airmen in WW II, while the woman next to him is Maria Perez — she drove a school bus for forty years without an accident and while raising four children.”
I was amazed and confused, thinking this was surely a dream. But in due time I even met a few presidents, as well as some scout leaders, Billy Graham, and a former neighbor who volunteered at our local hospital.
“How did all these people get here?” I asked. My friend smiled. “They followed their moral compass.”
As we resumed our walk, I asked my friend about this moral compass business.
“Are you telling me that God is the glue that holds us together, that will bind up this deep and bitter divide that so deeply troubles us.”
“Not exactly,” he replied. “God is only a guide. He will point you in the right direction. But you have to keep in touch with him.”
We soon came to a clearing, and I could even see our house in the distance. I turned to thank the man, my new friend, for guiding me home.
But he was gone.
James F. Burns is a retired professor at the University of Florida. He was born in Cincinnati and grew up near Coney Island. His cousins, the Varneys, had a farm just outside Wilmington where the family reunions were held.