The film Glory depicts the history of one of the Northern regiments in the Civil War that were staffed by black soldiers. In one scene, the soldiers were training to fire their rifles, which involved the process of loading each shot: a paper patch containing gunpowder was torn and poured into the open muzzle, and then a bullet was shoved with a metal rod to the base of the rifle, after which a primer cap was placed into position to be struck by the cocked hammer. An experienced rifleman could perform this procedure three times in a minute, and the loading expertise could be lifesaving, since a fraction of a second could make the difference between shooting an enemy soldier or being shot by him.
One soldier had previous experience with shooting a rifle—“squirrels,” he said—so he was faster than the men around him. The regiment’s colonel arrived and demanded that the soldier load and shoot again, but this time the colonel shouted at the man while he performed his task. Although his commander yelled at him to move faster, the soldier was visibly shaken and loaded his rifle more slowly.
The colonel then pulled out a pistol and repeatedly fired it into the air near the soldier’s head as he attempted the next loading of his rifle. The soldier became so panicked by the pistol explosions and the yelling of his commander, that he finally dropped the bullet, the ramrod, and the rifle on the ground.
The training looked harsh, but men thus trained saved their own lives and those of their companions. The colonel had learned from the lessons of past conflicts, where men trained in comfort immediately fell apart when the panic began—the yelling, the rush of oncoming troops, and the noise of bullets and cannon firing—after which they couldn’t load a single shot, dropped their rifles, and ran, resulting in a great loss of life and strategic positions.
We all want to be loving. It’s a much happier way of living than all the alternatives. But loving people can’t always be easy. People are messy. They get angry, they act like victims, they complain, they criticize, and more.
We have to learn to love people under fire—when they’re difficult to love—just as the soldier in the movie had to learn to load his rifle under difficult conditions. Fortunately, we can learn to love, even when it’s tough, and in the process we change our own lives, as well as the world around us.