As I look back on my life from the vantage of 2022, I actually can see The Merton Prayer flooding my life decades before I had ever met Merton or read his prayer. On December 1, 1969, I stood in front of a television set in the student lounge at my college while all of us young men were glued to little blue ping pong balls which popped up with calendar dates that determined our Draft Lottery number. It was the first ever draft lottery and the whole nation was watching. One of my best friends saw his birthday get #7 which meant he was off to the military, no doubt about that at all. When it came to February 21st, they opened up the little plastic ball and announced my draft number: 363. I was dumbfounded. The people in the lounge all applauded for my good fortune.
I called my parents and heard my mother’s soft cry of relief, and then my ever-witty father said, “Why son, those Viet Cong will have to invade Frankfort, Kentucky, before you get called up!” He was right. I was not ever called into the military, and I never enlisted voluntarily. But many of my high school classmates were indeed called into the war in Viet Nam. And some of them were maimed for life in combat, and some were killed.
I have spent not an insignificant amount of time in my life coping with “survivor’s guilt” – a psychological condition which brought me to my emotional knees simultaneously in tears and thanks. The military was not a road that I journeyed onto. Was my incredibly high draft number just dumb luck, or was it the work of a providential God who did not want me to go down that road? The Merton Prayer gives me assurance that if I have a desire to please God in everything I do He will lead me on the right road, though I may know nothing about it. That helps a little bit for me to cope with the events in the student lounge in 1969. However, I confess that I still have sadness for my classmates six decades later, and I sometimes actually wish that I too had gone to Viet Nam to serve my country, whether surviving or not.
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