The Moment I Came to Love My Enemy

One Christmas morning, a kind prison guard at Hua Lo prison showed me the power of faith.

BY: John McCain

 
Senator John McCain served as a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War. In October of 1967, his plane was shot down by North Vietnamese forces, and McCain was captured. McCain spent 5 1/2 years as a POW at Hua Lo prison, where he was struck almost daily by a sadistic guard and sometimes subjected to torture. Yet, as he writes in his latest book, "Character Is Destiny," there were moments of heroism and humanity that he recalls fondly, among them an encounter with a compassionate prison guard one Christmas morning.

There was one other occasion during my imprisonment that moved me greatly as evidence of God's transcending love. During the time I was held in solitary, I was caught, not for the first time, communicating with my dear friend in the cell next to mine. For my transgression, I was kept overnight in a punishment cell tied very tightly in ropes...

On this particular night as I sat on the stool cursing my bad luck, and straining against the painfully tightened ropes, the door suddenly opened and a young gun guard I had occasionally seen wandering around the camp entered the room. He motioned to me to remain silent by placing his finger to his lips, and then, without smiling or even looking me in the eyes, proceeded to loosen the ropes that bound me. His kind action completed, he left without uttering a word to me. As dawn approached, he returned to tighten the ropes before he finished his watch and another guard might have discovered what he had done.



In the months that followed, I occasionally saw my Good Samaritan when I was moved from one part of the prison to another. He never allowed himself a glance in my direction, much less spoke to me, until one Christmas morning, when I was briefly allowed out of my cell to stand alone in the outdoors and look up at the clear, blue sky. As I was looking at the heavens, I became aware of him as he walked near me and then, for a moment, stood very close to me. He did not speak or smile or look at me. He just stared at the ground in front of us, and then, very casually, he used his foot to draw a cross in the dirt. We both stood looking at his work for a minute until he rubbed it out and walked away.



For just that moment I forgot all my hatred for my enemies, and all the hatred most of them felt for me. I forgot about the Jerk, and the interrogators who persecuted my friends and me. I forgot about the war, and the terrible things that war does to you. I was just one Christian venerating the cross with a fellow Christian on Christmas morning.



I saw him again occasionally. But he never looked at me or attempted to speak to me. We never worshiped together again. But I have never forgotten him or the kindness he showed me as a testament to the faith we shared. That experience helped to form my lasting appreciation for my own religious faith, and it took the faith of an enemy to reveal it to me, the faith that unites and never divides, the faith that bridges unbridgeable divisions in humanity, the faith that we are all, sinners and saints alike, children of God. I became a better man, a stronger man, a more faithful man, who, for at least a moment, could love his enemies.



_Related Features
  • A Beliefnet Interview With Sen. John McCain
  • A Prayer for Loving Your Enemies
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