October 17, 2012
The news came this afternoon, and I've been fighting misty eyes and painful lump in my throat since. The news gets passed around Facebook and the statuses full of respect and sadness appear like wildfire. And tonight, as I absently make pancake batter, wash dishes, take a quick shower and prepare for a study session for Microbiology, I’m not really here.
Tonight, I’m nineteen. And it’s not night, although I’m thinking that I should be in bed. But no. I’m panting heavily and concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. The horizon has faded to a dark grey as the sun yawns and shakes off the night. For me, sleep feels like . . . well, like three very long miles ago. The Ozark hills and autumn leaves have lost their allure. I glance up and see a few of the ROTC physical training group strung out before me, and I can hear a few others behind me. This is no longer fun for any of us. I grit my teeth and return my eyes to where my next step should go.
“That’s it, Miss Esh!” I hear from behind. Within a few seconds, Colonel Herchenroeder jogs merrily past, giving me a bright smile and a thumbs up, before easily quickening his pace to joke with some guys at the head of our ragtag bunch. How does he do that?
Half a mile later, I’ve reached my limit. I’m coming around the last curve before the huge hill before the level stretch and then the gym where I can stop running. But as I heave in another breathe and look up the slope to where the road disappears, I feel my eyes prickle with exhausted tears. There’s just no way!
Then I hear the Colonel. “Almost there, Esh!” He’s at the top of the hill, and one look at my doubtful face has him trotting down the slope at an amazing speed. He meets me toward the bottom of the hill, whips around and slows to match his pace to mine. “Don’t stop.” Too tired to really acknowledge him, I rally my focus and clumsily move my feet. “Come on.” And I take the next step. And for the next few minutes, he jogs me up the hill, a constant stream of encouragement flowing from his mouth. And I can’t give up. Cuz he’s there and he wants me to finish. And then we’re at the top and he’s saying, “Can you make it from here?” And then he’s turning around and calling the next person’s name. And pretty soon, I’m at the gym and I feel like I just conquered the world. I didn’t quit because he wouldn’t let me.
I was only under the Colonel for three or four months. I didn’t join up. I haven’t seen him, spoken with him, or even heard much about him for over five years. But a couple weeks ago, something the pastor said about doing life together as Christians made me think of Colonel Herchenroeder, and I couldn’t wait to rush up to the pastor afterward and share this story. And this isn’t the first time I have. Why? Because I’m still learning from those few minutes on a chilly autumn morning when he believed in me, for me.