Lessons from Columbo and M.A.S.H.

Lt Columbo with nun


Lieutenant Columbo (Peter Falk) with a nun at a men’s homeless shelter

I’m learning lessons in the silence I would like to share with you. A respiratory bug has resulted in me having a nasty bout with laryngitis. The pain is really rough to take. I’m trying to get as much rest as I can, but this constant pain is affecting my sleep.  A close friend at church says to me, “Kevin, it’s not on the outside that counts. It’s what you are like inside that counts.” I’m so moved by such a caring expression of his concern.

I’m reminded of the Scripture that says to paraphrase loosely, “People look at the outward appearance, but God sees your heart (I Samuel 16:7).”  In Bible language the word heart means soul. God looks at your soul and sees the true state of it. Yet, He doesn’t do it with eyes of judgment, comparing you to someone else. He looks at you for who you are and yet can be. He loves you with an everlasting love. No matter what you have done, He loves you. When people say you are less than who you really are, please don’t believe them. When voices of accusation from your past and present invade your thoughts, try to block these negative thoughts with positive ones about your true character. Say things like this. I am creative. I am articulate. I am beautiful. I am fearfully and wonderfully made! These positive I am statements assert your true identity as a person. What is of greatest importance is what God thinks of you. If Christ could say of those responsible for His death on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, KJV) why would He not love you?

The apostle Paul declares we are living letter (2 Corinthians 3:2). Letters are rare these days to receive with most people sending e-mails. They take time to write well. You seek to tell the person receiving it what your thoughts are. You want the recipient to get a picture of who you really are. In essence, a well-written letter reveals some of your character to your reader.

We can say a lot to others with our smile. We can tell them how much we appreciate them. We can say with our heart how much they mean to us.

While my body is taking much-needed time to recover, I watch an episode of M.A.S.H. entitled Identity Crisis , which leaves a lasting impression.

 Corporal Josh Levin confesses to Captain Father Francis John Patrick Mulcahy, S.J.

Corporal Gerald Mullen is killed in a North Korean ambush. Corporal Josh Levin is injured. He needs a blood transfusion because his I.D. tag has the wrong blood type. He is wearing Mullen’s I.D. tag. He takes Mullen’s I.D. tag because Corporal Gerald Mullen has orders to go home soon. His conscience plagues him so much he can’t sleep.

In the middle of the night he asks to see Father Mulcahy. Levin confesses his actions to him. He tells the Father he will continue the deception. He asks him for forgiveness. Father Mulcahy says, “How can I, when you’re virtually unrepentant?” When Father Mulcahy goes to Colonel Sherman T. Potter for advice he sees some of the Colonel’s family photos. It gives him an idea. He goes back to Corporal Levin’s hospital bed. He begins to read letters from Corporal Mullen’s family and girlfriend. Corporal Levin is wracked with guilt. He knows in his heart he can’t continue to live his life as a lie. When a jeep picks up soldiers to go back to the front, Corporal Levin is ready to jump in. A soldier says, “Your name isn’t on the list.” Corporal Levin replies, “It’s a mix- up.” He leaves with the jeep.

None of the soldiers in that jeep are aware of the bravery in Corporal Levin’s actions. They will never know the heroic character he displays. God knows. In reality Corporal Josh Levin is one of the victims of post traumatic stress disorder. In that time soldiers are expected to man up and do their job. To do any less is regarded as an act of supreme cowardice. What is sad is no one truly heard Josh Levin’s cry for help. Sending him back to battle was the worst thing for his recovery.

I think Father Mulcahy did his best given the current knowledge at that time about PTSD. It was referred to then as shell shock or battle fatigue. The treatment was to in most instances send the soldier for a quick psychological patch up job, some rest, relaxation and then send him back to fight. In another episode Captain Hawkeye Pierce had to take a tank and destroy part of the M.A.S.H. unit before his plea for help is answered. He is sent to Major Sidney Freeman, a psychiatrist, for treatment. Hawkeye sees too many dead children, men and women. He breaks under the strain of it all.

I commend the entire M.A.S.H. team from the actors to the producer, director and writers, for shedding a much-needed spot light on PTSD. People aren’t weak who need treatment. It is nothing to do with a deficiency in one’s character. It has everything to do with being strong for far too long.

For comic relief in the episode Identity Crisis there is an annuity soldier-salesman, who is being treated for minor injuries. He is bothering other patients. Surgeons Hawkeye and B.J. lose their patience. They plead with Charles Emerson Winchester III, another surgeon, to do something, anything to stop this salesman from talking. Charles and B.J. devise an ingenious plan. They will invent a medical issue which in order to heal, requires the salesman to remain silent for 24 to 48 hours.  He protests saying, “But my profession requires that I talk!” Charles emphasizes if he doesn’t remain silent for that time the damage could be permanent.  The salesman agrees not to speak for the specified time. When the time has passed and he is boarding a truck to go back to the front, Charles tells him that his throat condition is completely healed. The moment he gets in the truck he starts speaking to the soldiers about their need for annuity insurance. All the surgeons and nurses breathe a deep sigh of relief when the soldier-salesman is gone.

There is a serious message within the laughter. Imagine what it would be like to have an ability you need for your career taken away from you. In many instances your livelihood would be stripped away. How will you provide for your family if you have no disability insurance? You would have to find another career requiring other skills or be retrained in another occupation. You may for a time have to depend upon your spouse to earn a living. For a man this can be especially tough. Many of us have been raised to believe if you are not supporting your family you are a failure as a man. I struggle with this issue. But then I am drawn back again to that Scripture. “…for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7, NASB).God doesn’t care about how we look in the world’s eyes. What He is far more concerned with is what kind of people we are in His eyes.

H.Jackson Brown, Jr., an American author best-known for his inspirational book,Life’s Little Instruction Book, is noted for this well-known quote. “Character is what we do when no one is looking.” Our true measure as individuals is not so much what we do in front of others. Character whether it is good, mediocre or bad is also in the motivation behind our actions. Most people learn through life experience to sort out the sincerity or lack of it in a person’s actions. It’s sad in a way this loss of innocence as our character matures, as we see the darkness that exists within us. The challenge becomes one of staying realistic about people while being optimistic about their potential at the same time.

When I am working in Salvation Army family services a man comes wanting a food voucher. I give it to him. Later, I find out he sells the voucher for booze. It would have been easy to become hardened through this experience to others who are in need. What good would it have done for me to judge everyone else by this man’s actions? In fact, I have no right to judge this man.  This is when the instruction Christ gave to his disciples to love one another as He loved them, becomes the testing ground of our character. Many others come who use the vouchers to buy food. I choose to pray for this man. He is still a child of God who needs my compassion. I share with you some thoughts about seeing an episode of Columbo entitled Negative Reaction.

Here is some of the dialogue from the scene of Lt. Columbo with a nun at a homeless shelter.

[while trying to find a witness at a homeless shelter, a nun mistakes Lt. Columbo for a homeless man]

Sister: [looking at Columbo’s raincoat in dismay] Oh, that coat! Tch, tch, tch! That coat, that coat, that coat…! Oh, I’m sure that we can find something nicer for you in the other room. Something maybe a bit warmer? What-what size are you? Do you know?

Lt. Columbo: I think there’s a misunderstanding.

Sister: Oh, no, brother. No false pride between friends.”1

Lieutenant Columbo is given this advice from the nun “It’s not the size of one’s purse that makes a person.” The detective smiles as the sister invites him to eating stew with other homeless men. She doesn’t understand he is a homicide detective until he shows his badge with an embarrassed smile. She thinks he is an undercover officer. She says, “You fooled me, Lieutenant. That’s such a great disguise you’re wearing!” She doesn’t know his disheveled appearance is Columbo’s natural look.

We can learn many lessons in the silence if we are willing to listen. But, Lord, I still hate having a respiratory bug and laryngitis.

  1. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071348/quote

Kevin Osborne is training to become a psychotherapist, priest and chaplain through St. James the Elder University in Jacksonville, Florida. He and his wife, Karen, plan to open a counselling practice. Karen is taking graduate divinity studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. Kevin is planning on taking additional graduate studies there. He is a member of The Word Guild, a Christian writer’s group in Canada.

Our greatest calling is to be servants of our Lord wherever He calls us to go.



About osborne2029

I enjoy spending time with people just having a coffee or talking about life, philosophy, religion, politics or sharing a favorite joke or story. We learn from one another as we interact and share our joys, challenges and even our times of sadness. I enjoy reading, writing, singing and sharing in the blessing of community whether that is one on one or in groups. I'm married and am powned by two kitties named Sir William of Lounge a.k.a. Sir Lounge a Lot and Princess Catherine of Chaos a.k.a. Her Royal Highness Catherine of Englehart. I m in an M.A.-Ph.D program with St. James the Elder Theological Seminary to train to become a psychotherapist and priest. Let us pray for and reach out to each other with kindness, love and an embracing compassion. We can working together be servants with two open hands to those in need so that hate, indifference and inequality would lose and love will win. The peace and abounding joy of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Posted on March 4, 2016, in loving others, thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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