A Story of Atonement

As I was driving home from Nashville Tuesday afternoon, I began to surf the radio for some entertainment.  I prefer talk radio, specifically sports talk.  But, when the local station begins to beat the proverbial dead horses of UT football, the NHL lockout, or the Titans, I start looking for alternatives.

Many times, I’ll wander down to the left end of the radio and listen to National Public Radio.  It’s there that I can hear all manner of information regarding culture, politics and music.

This past Tuesday, I was enthralled as I listened to an interview with former Marine Lu Lobello and author Dexter Filkins.  It wasn’t a heated war-policy debate, nor was it an account of some strategic victory that raised the cockles of patriotism – it was instead a story of pain, hurt, death…and forgiveness.

In the early days of the Iraq War, Lobello was part of a Marine unit that found themselves in the middle of an intense engagement with Saddam Hussein’s soldiers.  In the middle of a firefight, three cars began driving toward the Marine unit in what appeared to be the usual and obvious tactics that Marine units encountered in the early days of the war.

The problem, though, was that, in the three cars, were members of the Kachadoorian family.  They were fleeing from the fighting that had erupted, and, in their panic, drove into the middle of the fight.  The Marines, doing what they had been trained to do, defended themselves.

Years later, Lobello, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, met Dexter Filkins.  Filkins had written an article about the incident, and it was through this article that Lobello met Filkins and then, later, the Kachadoorians.

Lobello, in the interview, explains why he needed to relive the horror of that day:

A lot of the times, these stories don’t get told. What gets told is the other side and the heroism. And what you miss out on is that this is a part of any war. No matter the training, no matter the terrain, you will always have innocent civilians killed. And if more stories are told about these innocent civilians, maybe we will start to think twice the next time we decide to go somewhere and have these battles, or maybe at least we’ll come up with some programs to take better care of these people that are caught in the crossfire.

Yet, the most poignant part of the story, and hence the title, comes from Filkins explanation.

One of the oddities of the story — and there are so many, and I’m not sure what it means — but they’re Christian, for one thing, which makes them a minority in Iraq, some 2 percent of the population.

So every time I asked them about forgiving Lu, or what had happened, or how did they feel about it, or why are they not bitter, because they’re not, they would just default immediately to the Bible, or they would start talking about religion, of God and forgiveness. And it was amazing. You could just see the power of religion at a really micro level. They believed deeply in their religion, and she said — and they said, over and over again, ‘We have to forgive them. This is what God commands us: He’s forgiven us; we must [as well]. And there was no doubt in their mind about it. And the conviction with which they did it was very moving.

As you listen to the interview, or read the story, you can feel the pain, the uncertainty, the need for closure in the voice of Lobello.  A young man, trained to be an elite, efficient soldier, doing a job but suffering the consequences in so many ways.  But, as Filkins titled his article so eloquently, there is atonement.

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