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Survival checklist

Retired Presbyterian pastor asks, ‘Am I as ready as I can be for whatever comes?’

by Tom Davis | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Tom Davis, a retired Presbyterian pastor living in Delaware, pilots a skimmer in Vietnam, 1970. (Contributed photo)

WILMINGTON, Delaware — He drives up the Philadelphia Turnpike for his semi-annual appointment with the allergist, and sneezes. Not unusual for this time of year. Should he, a senior, be nervous? He’s not anxiety-prone, but with the advancing virus constantly in the news, how can he not have dying at the back of his mind?

“Am I as ready as I can be for whatever comes?” he ponders.

Then his mind shifts immediately into reverse, going back 50 years. He remembers asking himself that question many times, “Am I as ready as I can be for whatever comes?” As he tossed in his bunk unable to sleep, he would go through a checklist for every pre-dawn operation.

M-16 cleaned and lubed. Check. Bandolier with four magazines in their sleeves, each with 18, not 20 rounds loaded to avoid jamming. Check. Extra ammo can loaded and first-aid kit ready to carry aboard the skimmer. Check. Tidal charts indicate adequate water for getting in and out. Check. Call signs and radio frequencies confirmed for air support and medevac. Check. Bone handled lucky pen knife his wife sent him in his jungle fatigues front pocket. Check. In the morning he would take off his wristwatch and put it in his other front pocket. Nothing shiny must give him away in the bush. He would take his wedding ring off just before leaving the hooch. Check.

He remembers now. This was how he dealt with the dread of dying and preparations for surviving when he was 25 years old, by doing everything he could that made sense to do: check, check, check. Beyond that there was nothing that could be done, so it didn’t help to fret. Must put all those worries aside and focus on the mission.

That’s how he came through. Returning to the now, he figures that’s the way to get through. Do everything that makes sense to do. Wash hands frequently. Check. Don’t touch face. Check. Avoid crowds. Check. Get plenty of rest. Check. Eat sensibly and stay hydrated. Check. Get daily moderate exercise. Check. Phone loved ones often. Check. Meditate and pray. Check.

Will these measures guarantee survival? No more than his checklist of 50 years ago could guarantee it. But this he remembers above all: Focusing on the mission was the best antidote to fear.

And he still has a mission: to help those like himself who are striving to survive.

The Rev. Tom Davis is a retired Presbyterian pastor and commissioned interfaith peacemaker in New Castle Presbytery, which serves congregations in Delaware and eastern Maryland. He is founder and president of the Interfaith Veterans’ Workgroup, a nonprofit launched in 2015 to help returning veterans acclimate to civilian life.

Read more about the Interfaith Veterans’ Workgroup’s ministries of hope for returning veterans: January 2020 Presbyterian News Service article; August 2019 PNS article from Presbyterians Today.

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