Twenty-nine years! Mr. Onoda could have been living with his family and friends for almost thirty years! He might have married and had children, living to enjoy their company in his old age. Instead, he hid in the jungle, believing that he was following orders and would one day help to win the war for his beloved motherland. Tonight, I think I may have a clue, just a little one, into what he felt like.
You see, World War II ended formally in the Pacific theater on September 2,1945. But, it wasn’t until March 9, 1974 that Hiroo Onoda finally was officially relieved of duty by his former commanding officer (himself, a bookseller by that time), since it was obvious that the holdout Japanese soldier would never believe that his beloved country could do the unthinkable and surrender. He was determined to fight until he was commanded to stop. Holed up in the mountains of the Philippines, he lived in poverty and needless hardship for twenty-nine years after all of his compatriots had given up their arms and taken back up the tools of their civilian trades. They lived in relative ease, while he sat in the jungle wondering when the war would be won for the Empire of the Sun. Peace was his all along, he just never possessed it.
I too, have sat in the wilderness for almost thirty years when I could have been living in the lap of luxury. You think I’m kidding, but I speak in relative seriousness. The comparison with Mr. Onoda is a bit far-fetched, but it doesn’t feel it to me. You see, I have owned my own business, with the Lovely Lady, since the mid-1980s. In that time, I have suffered beyond what a business-owner ought to be expected to bear. There has never been a single day that I had a place where I could retreat to have privacy; never a room where I could invite an associate, or a contractor, of even a friend, to sit and visit. I have sat night after night, pecking away at the keys on my computer as I write these posts, in full view of the passing public, a number of whom have felt it their privilege to come and tap at the front window simply because they could see me there…sitting at my desk. Numerous times, I have been confronted by the local police force who, I know, are only doing their jobs, but it has been a burden nonetheless. You may have read my version of the events on that summer night a few years ago, when they even scaled the fence into my backyard, greeting me with a blinding beam of light in the eyes and a pistol trained on me when I ran out to investigate the racket. I have suffered! I feel a kinship with old Hiroo, because I too, have lived life in a jungle of my own making.
I speak in hyperbole (and more than a little tongue-in-cheek) to make a valid point. You see, over last weekend, I cleaned out a room (a room I have owned for many years) and made space for a private office for myself. I am writing this from the solitude of that retreat, out of the view of prying eyes, safe from knocks on the window and, it is to be hoped, intrusion from an overeager police crew. The office is not plush; the furniture, not new. There is an old oak roll-top desk and a comfortable leather love-seat (should I need a moment to nap). I’ve even hung a couple of paintings on the bare wall, but more decorating should, and will, be done. That said, I feel as if I’m in the promised land. No longer do I need to heed every creak of the roof or every set of lights that creeps down the road outside in the early morning darkness. Even in the busy-ness of the workday, there is a place to which I may retreat to rest for a moment and an out-of-the-way space to invite a visiting sales rep to sit and show me his latest wares. I have finally arrived!
But, last night, as I sat and reveled in the privacy and the affluence of having my own private office, the truth hit me. I have owned this business for nearly thirty years! I could have had an office at any point in that time. This private space was within my grasp for all of the long years; each of the stretched out months; every single one of the interminable days. It was mine all along! I own this place! All I ever needed to do was to clean out the riffraff and take possession of my office.
Do you see my point? Do you understand my regret and my feelings of camaraderie with the Japanese soldier, sitting in that tropical jungle for all of those years? I shouldn’t be proud of cleaning out a room and moving in some furniture. I should be disgusted that I didn’t do it many years ago. It was mine; I just never possessed it.
I also can’t help but think about the lessons I learned in Sunday School, so many years ago. I always loved hearing and reading about Moses and the exodus of Abraham’s descendents from their life of slavery in the land of Egypt. It was only a short journey of a few months, at the most, to their destination. They had a place to call home. The Children of Israel owned the Promised Land. It had been promised to their ancestor and to them. All they needed to do was to cross the river into the land and possess it. Yet, they wandered for forty years, because they couldn’t bring themselves to take what was theirs. They stood by the Jordan river and gazed over at it. Theirs. But they couldn’t bring themselves to go and clean out the riffraff. Their home, they just didn’t possess it.
Have I bumbled around long enough on this subject? Is my point obvious enough for you? There are things in this life to which we already have the right, but of which we refuse to take possession. Promises have been made and contracts drawn up. I will abstain from defining them clearly to you tonight, because many of you already have taken possession of much that is yours. An enumeration of the properties would, no doubt, include many you have moved into, but it would also miss a number which are still to be occupied. I will leave it to you to consider carefully what is rightfully yours and what steps you will take to enjoy the benefits. You may need to consult the Contract to reacquaint yourself with some of the more obscure or forgotten assets. There is almost certainly a copy on your bookshelf, although the dust may be a bit thick on its cover.
I will reiterate though, that it is good to have my own place; to be out of the jungle finally. While I have without question, taken leave of my senses long ago, I have only now taken possession of this space in which to practice my madness and will defend it tirelessly.
As the explorers of old, here I set my flag and make my claim. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, you know.
“For once I can say: “This is mine, you can’t take it.”
(Frank Sinatra~”For Once In My Life~written by Ron Miller & Orlando Murden~1967)
“Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day.”
( Caleb, upon entering the Promised Land~Joshua 14:12a~NIV)
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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.