In his marvelous, award-winning motion picture, “The Best Years of Our Lives,” William Wyler became one of the first directors to address the difficulties returning war veterans experience re-adjusting to civilian and family life.
The film’s main character, Fred Derry, descends from Air Force captain to soda fountain attendant upon his return. This amounted to an 80% cut in pay. But the cost was far more painful in human dignity. On his way back from overseas, CPT Derry believed that reuniting with his wife and returning home would “fix everything”. All his post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and recurring nightmares could go away. All he needed to do was get back to the arms of his wife and familiar surroundings – so he thought. But within a few months he was financially broke, unemployed, divorced, and discarded by a nation that wanted to put the war behind it.
In a final scene Fred Derry is trying to escape his hometown. While waiting for a flight he wandered past an airfield turned into a vast “graveyard” of junked warplanes. He passed row upon row of gutted B-17 Flying Fortresses and P-47 Thunderbolts. These machines that a year ago had saved civilization – were now the throwaways of America.
Symbolically, those thousands of discarded aircraft represented the millions of unappreciated and undervalued veterans. Like them, Fred Derry’s life was now on the junk heap.
But the scene closes with a message of hope. The foreman of a “wrecking crew” tells Derry, “these planes are not junk – we’re using them to make prefabricated housing.” In the conversation, Derry also manages to get the foreman to hire him.
The message is clear. Those who feel discarded by society, those whose critical skills are no longer needed, those who are broken and considered worthless – have inestimable value as human beings and have a future role to fill and a contribution to make.
Every human being will go through periods of self-doubt and brokenness. We may reach a point when we feel utterly useless and hopeless. We may fear our lives have no tomorrow. But the God who created us put us on this planet for a purpose. He has a blueprint for our lives.
No matter how broken we become, God can transform our lives into something useful and beautiful.
To the apostate and broken nation of Israel, God said, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Dear Father in heaven, redeem my life and my soul. Please take the raw material and the broken pieces of my life and make me the person you created me to be. Please, dear God, bring beauty and wholeness back to my life and fashion me into an instrument of your peace. Amen.