A teenager of eighteen years goes off to war in 1941 and is sent to the Pacific Theatre. In 1945 he returns a man who had spent years in a dreadful Japanese POW camp, tortured and forced on a death march. He barely comes out alive and loses all of his closest friends. He never thought he’d survive the war. After liberation, he’s put on an army hospital ship and sent home to the United States. After a week at sea, with shaky legs and a broken body, the young man steps off the military ship with legs that can barely carry him and once off the gangplank, he falls to his knees crying and kisses the ground.
In the winter of 1944, a Lieutenant in the Army Air Force flies his P47 fighter plane in formation out across the English Channel over Nazi occupied France. His squadron comes under attack and all his buddies are shot out of the sky. With his own plane riddled with bullets and an engine on fire, somehow the young pilot, only twenty years old, lumbers back to England. With damaged landing gear, he manages to crash near the runway on a British base. With his plane on fire, the pilot pulls himself out of the cockpit and barely scrambles away to safety just as his plane explodes in the field behind him. With British ground crew trying to extinguish the blaze, the pilot lays down on his chest and kisses the ground.
Kissing the ground. Such is the visceral relationship between we humans and terra firma. In moments of high emotion, we are moved to show affection for the earth beneath our feet, recognizing the permanence of earth, holding steady and true as madness reigns on its surface. Home can be anywhere. If you’re in the sky, it can mean no more than the ground below you. Or if you’ve been away, it can mean your own country. Or even more thought-provoking, for many the ground to be worshiped belongs to the land of their ancestors.
Consider the man or woman who has faced death and suffering, found redemption then falls prostrate to kiss the ground. The sentiment — usually impromptu — seems to be one of embracing life in a way that you never seemed to appreciate it before.
The famous Persian poet, Jalaluddin Rumi, nearly eight hundred years ago, said, “Let the beauty you love be what you do … there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”