Bea, Kanuga, and Prince Charles
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,[a] and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,” Hebrews 12:1
Two days ago, on November 14, Prince Charles of England turned seventy years old. His birthday always reminds me of a woman named Bea whom we encountered at Kanuga many years ago at breakfast at a Lenten Bowen conference. As we pass to Bea the famous butter-baked Kanuga toast we learn she is from Beaumont, Texas, but she does not have a Southern accent. She was born in Germany. Her parents were Jewish, but not practicing. She is a Holocaust survivor. She escaped from Germany and lived in Belgium and France where she was helped by the French underground. There she met her future husband, Henry Buller, a Mennonite, who was a conscientious objector doing relief work in unoccupied France and later in England and Germany.
Bea came to this country when she was in her twenties. She now tells us she is eighty-four. Bea is articulate and knowledgeable and just an interesting conversationalist. She became a Mennonite but now attends a Disciples of Christ church since there is not a Mennonite congregation in her town, but she says, “I will always be a Mennonite.”
We are now joined by Kathryn who comments on Bea’s unusual oriental necklace.
“I do not like living alone,” Bea says. “It was a gift several years ago from Chinese graduate students who lived with me.”
Bea notices my husband’s bronze star label pin. She asks how he was awarded it.
“I served in Vietnam,” he casually replies.
There is a brief silence. She then responds, “My son, Rene, was killed in the Vietnam War. He was twenty. He was a medic and had only been in Vietnam for two weeks. He was killed trying to care for a wounded soldier. His death was such a waste.” Tears fill her eyes. “My son was born on the same day as Prince Charles of England, and whenever I see the prince, I think, this is the age Rene would be. Rene died thirty years ago. He would now be in his fifties, but I can only see him as twenty years old.”
We go back to our room in the Kanuga lodge. I have ridden in its slow but steady elevator so many times. Today I see the plaque on the elevator wall. “This elevator given in memory of Reginald Hudson Bedell, RAF bomber pilot, killed in action December 19, 1942. Born February 13, 1920. Given in memory by his mother, Edna Woods Buist.” Reginald was twenty-two. If he were alive at that time of our meeting, he would be eighty-five, a year older than Bea. But to Edna Woods Buist and to all of us who ride the elevator at Kanuga to and from our meals, her son, Reginald, will always be twenty-two.
Today I say prayers for Bea, Rene, Edna, and Reginald and remember the great tragedies of war and how two women have worked through their loss by honoring the life of their sons by helping others in need. I am also reminded that we are a part of a “great cloud of witnesses,” a community of those of different faiths, of those who immigrated to this country as well as those from other countries who have made enormous sacrifices and contributions to and for us and our country.