What Men Live By*

8 Min read

1 Short Story

1 Lecture series, The Four Loves

On Providence

A sacred oath





Friday was a cold, sunny day. The alarm was set for 6:15 AM and that would give me enough time to make it across the Hudson River before rush hour.

I woke very early and could not sleep, so I wrote a letter to go with the chocolate-chip cookies I had baked. I got back in bed, still no sleep. I rested and did a mental scan of my wardrobe. Black was the color of the day, so . . . black turtleneck, dark print skirt, warm boots, with hat and gloves. Military funerals mean being outside, for a while.

In times like these, I have learned to focus on the small things so that I don’t have to think of the big things. My friend’s son, Steve, died in a helicopter crash in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea as part of an effort to help stabilize tensions in the region after the Hamas attack on Israel. All five American soldiers on board died on November 10th during the night-time aerial re-fueling exercise. They are part of the US Army’s Special Operations Aviation Regiment, 160th (SOAR). Steve leaves behind a wife and three young boys. The graveside service would be at the West Point cemetery that morning.

Steve died three months after Hailey died. She died when a German truck ran nto her military convoy; she was in the lead vehicle, a Stryker. I had attended her memorial and texted her mother to ask if she wanted me to share a message or scripture at her gravesite after Steve’s service.

Her mom wrote: Thanks for visiting Hailey’s grave today. Please tell her, her mama loves and misses her so much. She included the verse.

“Beloved let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” 

 – 1 John 4: 7-8

Then she wrote: That’s the first verse I found highlighted and underlined in Hailey’s Bible

And, I was happy to have something to share.


On the way to the cemetery, I thought about what to listen to. Music and podcasts did not appeal to me and neither did the new books I’d downloaded after closing my Audible account. Silence–which I typically enjoy and crave–meant being with my thoughts over an hour both ways. That timeless work, The Four Loves, seemed fitting and one I’ve been wanting to read.

The book is the only professional recording of C.S. Lewis in his own voice. And, I wanted to listen to him since these were lectures he had given. He discussed with inimitable wit and charm the four types of love: Storge, Philia, Eros, and Agape. The Greek terms roughly equate to, Storge for affection, as in the parent for child; Philia for friendship; Eros for lovers, and Agape for Christian love or charity.

On the way to the cemetery, old “Jack” (as C.S. Lewis was known by friends) pontificated on the four loves and the at-times nefarious manner we twist and mangle them in deed and in thought to be the undoing of otherwise loving relations.


At home that evening, I settled in to my reading, or re-reading, of Leo Tolstoy’s short works. Yes there are short stories. I opened the book where I had left off, a popular story I’d read years ago, What Men Live By. The book has three tabs I had placed in it and this is the first.


Leo Tolstoy, Walk in the Light and Twenty-Three Tales, p. 121


It is worth noting that, I do not go to church in the traditional sense. Nor do I read the Bible with regularity. So, I hadn’t recognized the reference, 1 Epistle St. John, to be the same as, 1 John. My mind was slow to catch the exact verbiage but I did grasp the idea, the broader theme about love.

And then I began to see it, and not for the first time that day.

The third citation is 1 Epistle St. John, iv 7-8 is the same as Hailey’s verse, 1 John 4:7-8.

Beloved let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. 

Hailey’s verse, 1 John 4:7-8

And Leo Tolstoy’s third citation.

Love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

1 Epistle St. John IV, 7-8

Here is the final page of the story, which I had highlighted years ago.


Leo Tolstoy, What Men Live By, p. 144.

The highlighted passage of Tolstoy’s story struck me then as it does now. And all men live not by the thought they spend on their own welfare, but because love exists in man.

Still further, Tolstoy, writes, He who has love, is in God, and God is in him, for God is love. Christian, Theist, Pantheist, Buddhist, or whatever religion or philosophy one subscribes to, it is easy to get behind love as God or in God or in him, or in her, as it may be. That possession, that the person who has love, is in God, and that God is in them. They are God-like when filled with love.


I went online to find the lectures which I had listened to on the way to Steve’s service. A later-life conversion to Theism and ultimately to Christianity, C.S. Lewis was a notable scholar and apologist, appealing to skeptics like his younger self. Here is the opening to The Four Loves:

“God is love,” says St. John. When I first tried to write this book I thought that his maxim would provide me with a very plain highroad through the whole subject. I thought I should be able to say that human loves deserved to be called loves at all just in so far as they resembled that Love which is God. The first distinction I made was therefore between what I called Gift-love and Need-love. The typical example of Gift-love would be that love which moves a man to work and plan and save for the future well-being of his family which he will die without sharing or seeing; of the second, that which sends a lonely or frightened child to its mother’s arms.

There was no doubt which was more like Love Himself. Divine Love is Gift-love. The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father, and gives Himself to the world, and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father too.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 1960


It is late in the evening on Friday and I am not sure what to make of all this. The verse arrives in triplicate:

  1. The first time from Hailey’s mom in the morning.
  2. The second time from a lecture in the car.
  3. The third time from a book that evening.

Stunned, I fell back in the sofa. Clearly, the Christian is familiar with St. John’s ideas of love and God. But for me, this seemed personal. This was a message. And it is one that has slowly taken root, not over years, but decades.

Love is God. God is Love.

Is it Providence? Divine guidance or care. God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny. Is it coincidental to come across this three times on the day of the funeral?

Does such a message overlap, or touch, or run at the very heart of the sacred oath officers take to support and defend? To take such an oath with God as witness?

I ___, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God. 

Oath of commissioned officer


I don’t know the answers. BUT, this verse will be Hailey’s Message, for God is love. When I couldn’t sleep that morning, I wrote the card to my friend who had to bury her son that day. And, I included it with the cookies, baked in my kitchen with love. Food to nourish the body. And, a message to nourish the soul.

I said that I visit the cemetery often, that it is a beautiful and serene place. That I would stop by and visit him. He is in good company.

May God rest his soul. Be thou at Peace.



*Leo Tolstoy. What Men Live By, 1881. Gutenberg.org Full text available to read at link.

**C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 1960. Full text at link. A live recording of CS Lewis is available here. Wiki link: a 1960 book which explores the nature of love from a Christian and philosophical perspective through thought experiments. 

*I was in awe–that sincere and overpowering sense of awe as in awe-struck–when I began to recognize the same verses which came to me over the course of the day. I wrote Hailey’s mother and a correspondence followed, with photos and journal entries. Both of her parents are friends and she was my daughter’s classmate. I felt a strong need to make sense of that day and wasn’t sure how to write this letter, to respect and honor both officers and their families.

*Steve’s mother has been a mentor to me as a writer and is the very best pen-pal. Death is a sobering reality of a profession that much of America no longer personally understands, that of the soldier. Perhaps the sacrifice, this final measure of devotion, provides context and inspiration on the kind of love that goes beyond all the rest: greater love than this hath no one: that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13.


*Stephen R. Dwyer (USMA ’09)


CW3 Steve Dwyer, 38, died on November 10, 2023 when his MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter went down over the Mediterranean Sea during refueling training. He was assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment in Fort Campbell, K.Y. Also killed was Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shane M. Barnes, Staff Sgt. Tanner W. Grone, Sgt. Andrew P. Southard, and Sgt. Cade M. Wolfe.

“Steve was an incredible man who made an unforgettable impact as a father, husband, son, family member, teammate, and friend – his love knew no bounds. Steve’s devoted parents and siblings raised him in a loving household and instilled in him the highest sense of noble values. His nurturing upbringing prepared him for excellence at West Point, a place that not only shaped his career but also sharpened his already strong character. Steve’s spirit soared on the rugby pitch and matched the intensity and camaraderie of the game itself. The bonds he forged at West Point would last a lifetime, and his time there prepared him for a storied career in the Army. Steve excelled as an elite helicopter pilot, and he took to the skies with a courage that mirrored the vastness of his fortitude, navigating every operation with precision and grace.

Beyond the uniform, Steve was a dedicated family man who made everyone he crossed paths with feel like his best friend. His presence brought warmth and laughter into the lives of everyone around him. As a father, he loved and cared for his sons above all else, they were his world, and he was theirs. As a husband, he shared a love story that was the envy of many—a testament to the enduring power of a partnership built on trust, respect, and love. Steve was a pillar of support for his family, friends, and teammates and he never missed an opportunity to show his unwavering loyalty and genuine concern for others.

In the tapestry of life, Steve Dwyer’s threads were woven with valor, dedication, and love. As we bid farewell to a hero, let us remember the indelible spirit that defined him. In the laughter of his children, the cheers of Army rugby victories, and the rhythmic thump of helicopter blades, we will be reminded of Steve’s legacy—a legacy of courage, camaraderie, and unwavering love. May his memory be a beacon that guides us through life’s challenges and inspires us to reach new heights, just as he did.”

He is survived by his wife and three young children.


*Hailey Hodsden (USMA 2021)


Obituary published on Legacy.com by Harrell Funeral Home of Dripping Springs (in Austin) on Aug. 5, 2023.

Hailey Elizabeth Hodsden, 24 of Dripping Springs, Texas died on 1 August 2023 in a training accident in Grafenwoehr, Germany while serving as a Scout Platoon Leader in the 2nd US Cavalry Regiment. Hailey was born on July 5th, 1999, in Austin Texas.
Hailey was a 2017 graduate of Dripping Springs High School and a 2021 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Hailey loved everybody without condition. She especially loved God, her family, her boyfriend 1LT Matthew Delaney, the Army, and her many close friends. She was as good an officer as there was in the Army. Professional, proficient, and personable, she not only cared for the people she served with, but she loved them. She also loved life and all its facets…. books, art, sports, travel, history, nature, and music. She put effort into living life and experiencing all the beauty that life has to offer. She could find good in the worst situation. Hailey was a faithful Catholic and was confident where she would be spending eternity.
Hailey is survived by her parents Scott and Julie Hodsden, her siblings SGT Scott Hodsden, 1LT Luke and Rose Hodsden, CDT Maximilian Hodsden, Jenna Hodsden, Taylor Hodsden, Eleanor Hodsden, and Nicholas Hodsden. She is also survived by her Paternal Grandfather Thomas Hodsden of Bellows Falls, VT, her nephew Mark, and many aunts, uncles and cousins who loved her.
Hailey is predeceased by her maternal grandparents, COL (Ret) Donald and Patricia Hiebert and her paternal grandmother Eleanor Hodsden.
A funeral Mass was celebrated at St Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Dripping Springs, TX followed by interment in the cemetery at West Point, NY on Monday, August 28, 2023 with services starting at 1:30 PM at The Most Holy Trinity Catholic Chapel, West Point, NY.
“A Memorial Fund in Hailey Hodsden’s name has been established at Texas Regional Bank, 700 West Highway 290, Dripping Springs, TX 78620, (512) 894-5011. Acct # 1704881. In lieu of flowers, or trees please contribute to Hailey’s Memorial Fund.”


Mar 4, 2024


  1. Bob Wardrop

    Hi MyLinh- really enjoyed the letter – that is absolutely surreal and the word “coincidence” definitely seems inadequate. Clearly more going on there.

    That was very kind of you to offer support to Hailey’s parents.

    Sorry for both losses. Great people for sure. Lives cut far too short but blessings to their circles of family and friends while they had them.

    Be well and keep up the great work.

    • mylinhshattan

      I agree. A dangerous profession, the soldier. Two Great Americans and another hard day, but I was glad I could be there. I met Max again, Hailey’s brother who is a firstie, and was inspired by his sense of purpose and peace. Also met Hailey’s two uncles who remind me fondly of her mother. Thank you for reading the THL and taking the time to write. DSBD!

About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

Stay Up to Date

Rise above the tedium with the TreeHouseLetter. Always learning with a bit of fun.

Latest Posts

Northeast by Northwest: How Travel Changes Me

5 min read On travel British Columbia in summer On Eats and Feats: where to eat and what to do * Eve Kendall: And, I don't particularly like the book I've started. Roger Thornhill: Ah. Eve Kendall: You know what I mean? Roger Thornhill: Ah, let me think. Yes, I know...

“Well-Intentioned Fools”

2 Min read Poetry for Emergencies On grief * * I came across this poem about the stupid things people say to each other after someone dies. * STEALING GRIEF By D. Adam BoazI think thatOne of the things we doWhen someone we know isHurtingIs say things,Because we want...

Memorial Day Speech: Because They Lived

9 Min read Memorial Day Speech Transcript and Video, New Canaan Town Hall Honoring seven New Canaan residents Remembering Hailey Hodsden Remembering the MH-60M Black Hawk #490 crew of the 160th SOAR(A) * Honored Resident Photos at this link * VIDEO OF SPEECH - follow...

“We Lived, Felt Dawn, Saw Sunset Glow”

3 Min read Memorial Day Vietnam War Toolbox: Speech writing and public speaking Creative nonfiction / True story Poetry for Emergencies * Last fall I received a request to be the speaker for Memorial Day. I was surprised and then I let it sink in. Me? The Local VFW...

That Teacher, You Know the One

5 Min read Poetry for Emergencies: E.E. Cummings On music: J.S. Bach Commencement speech * * Let's take a moment for teachers. That teacher, you know the one. Because, I have a confession to make. In the lottery of life and learning, if you're lucky then you have one,...

Meditation on Mother’s Day

4 Min read On mandalas On Kansas City On life in the middle * * It's wet and dreary here. And, in spite of the multitude of Mays that I've lived through, I continue to forget how busy this month is with graduations, weddings, parties. And, funerals. What I want to...

Semper Fidelis

4 Min read On patterns On Vietnam and Memorial Day Operation Frequent Wind 1 Book rec * * We had not met before though we had met in other ways, I suppose. We laughed in short order, having teared up moments before. But, first let me say this. The third time is a...


Inoculate yourself against the absurdity of life with a dose of the best ideas and writing. Always learning with a bit of fun.