By John Thomas Tuft
Thomas received a degree in Engineering from George Washington University, gaining expertise in a world of precision, certainty, and predictability in the year 1940. This was a much more welcoming world than that of emotions, fickle feelings, and family dynamics. It was even a comfort for him, slide rules and mathematical formulas, at a time when the memory of his older brother being shipped off to a sanitarium for treatment, such as it was, for paranoid schizophrenia burned fresh in his memory. Being trapped in the same bedroom with hallucinations and terrifying delusions left their mark. And the incomprehensible-his father disabled by a stroke, always in a wheelchair. Control…control over what happens in one’s life, control over who we know and who knows us, control over our own fate…became the urgent goal of Thomas’ life.
Pearl Harbor happened and into the Navy went Thomas, with valuable skills and knowledge. The young ensign was assigned the task of helping design the hulls of attack submarines to withstand the stresses of ocean depths as well as the explosions of depth charges. It is an engineering problem. One that suited him. Off to the David Taylor Naval Model Basin outside of Bethesda, Maryland to test out various components and welding methods. The War to End All Wars that ended the year he was born had resulted in 20 million human beings killed. This time around, the death toll would surpass 100 million, although that was as yet unknown. Horrors, destruction, displacements, shortages…such are the harvests of war. But for Thomas, right is right and wrong is wrong and this war must be won at all costs.
Thomas was devout and pious. Creation was an engineering marvel, was it not? Life has rules and commandments and breaking them has consequences, just like ignoring d’Almbert’s differential equation for understanding how waves move can lead to disaster. Similar to how ignoring Fourier’s equations involving frequencies or trying to bend the second law of thermodynamics could lead to crushed submarines at the bottom of the ocean, if you catch my drift. Thomas believed that God is always talking through history, scriptures, sermons, if we can but learn to interpret the noise. That was the trick, learning what was good noise and what was not. Lock it down tight in a Bible and beware to any and all who didn’t see it that way. Here is how you are to behave, how you are to think, how you are to feel. Bring on the world!
And the world brought it on for four more bloody, tragic, earthshattering years. When it finally ended, Thomas was assigned helping to design nuclear powered submarines that could carry nuclear weapons, running deep and dark beyond detection. More engineering challenges. More strange formulas, and even more plans for danger. He was married by now with three children. Thomas left the Navy and went to study to be a minister. Yet he would always think like an engineer. In his studies, in his duties, in his teaching and preaching, and in his childrearing. Manage the noise in accordance with the formulas derived from some divine inspiration in a book. And he would always be haunted by the frightfulness of feelings and emotions unchained, finding foreboding from the noise in other people’s heads, but most certainly of the noise in his own.
All this time something gnawed at Thomas. The wildness and wonders of the world does not always lend itself to a life lived decently and in order. Living life desiring to be known and accepted becomes exponentially more frustrating if one is unwilling to know and accept themselves. His fears of not having engineered his life correctly constantly ate at him. If we never entertain the idea that we may be wrong about all of our certainties, the inevitable uncertainty of life can devolve certainty into rigidity. Most poignant was the constant fear of would the Big Guy in the Sky be disappointed in Thomas as an abject creature, since it is impossible to completely engineer a life of righteousness and goodness and the impeccable keeping of rules and formulas.
One day as age was taking its toll he said, “Jack Goo, you turned out to be a much better preacher than I ever was.” “Dad,” I said, “it’s a weird physics problem. Out there, out beyond, most of the universe is made up of magnified silence.” I tapped my chest. “In here is a whole lot of broken silence. I don’t open my mouth until they touch each other.” It was the only time I saw him cry… Thank you, Dad, for your service. I miss you.
Words are magic and writers are wizards.