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I have spent the last few blogs discussing what it means to empty one’s self. We are all free to be nothing, if we wish. This story below is about what can happen when someone empties himself and puts another person’s needs before his own. It is about a man who, through giving it all away, literally transformed a whole camp of soldiers.
Angus was a Scottish prisoner in one of the camps filled with Americans, Australians, and British who had helped build the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai. The camp had become an ugly situation. A dog-eat-dog mentality had set in. Allies would literally steal from each other and cheat each other; men would sleep on their packs and yet have them stolen from under their heads. Survival was everything. The law of the jungle prevailed…until the news of Angus McGillivray’s death spread throughout the camp. Rumors spread in the wake of his death. No one could believe big Angus had succumbed. He was strong, one of those whom they had expected to be the last to die. Actually, it wasn’t the fact of his death that shocked the men, but the reason he died. Finally they pieced together the true story.
The Scottish soldiers took their buddy system very seriously. Their buddy was called their “mucker,” and these soldiers believed that is was literally up to each of them to make sure their “mucker” survived. Angus’s mucker though was dying and everyone had given up on him, everyone, of course but Angus. He had made up his mind that his friend would not die. Someone had stolen his mucker’s blanket. So Angus gave him his own, telling his mucker that he had “just come across an extra one.” Likewise, every mealtime, Angus would get his rations and take them to his friend, stand over him and force him to eat them, again stating that he was able to get “extra food.” Angus was going to do anything and everything to see that his buddy got what he needed to recover.
But as Angus’s mucker began to recover, Angus collapsed, slumped over, and died. The doctors discovered that he had died of starvation complicated by exhaustion. He had been giving of his own food and shelter. He had given everything he had — even his very life. The ramifications of his acts of love and unselfishness had a startling impact on the compound.
As word circulated of the reason for Angus McGillivray’s death, the feel of the camp began to change. Suddenly men began to focus on their friends, and the humanity of living beyond survival, of giving oneself away. They began to pool their talents — one was a violin maker, another an orchestra leader, another a cabinet maker, another a professor. Soon the camp had an orchestra full of homemade instruments and a church called the “Church Without Walls” that was so powerful, so compelling, that even the Japanese guards attended. The men began a university, a hospital, and a library system. The place was transformed; love revived all because one man named Angus gave all he had for his friend. For many of those men this turnaround meant survival. What happened is an awesome illustration of the potential unleashed when one person actually gives it all away.
Most of us won’t have an opportunity to literally die for others. But, there are examples of this kind of self-emptying all around us…Dying to self — putting others first – not looking for credit or self-promotion – not doing things out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
This is from Ernest Gordon’s true account of life in a World War II Japanese prison camp, Through the Valley of the Kwai.