Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Yea, though I walk..."

A few days ago I heard a woman say something with great emotion. Real emotion, quietly and forcefully delivered. It took me a while to place the expression, as I had heard it before, under almost the exact same circumstance, but in a place so removed from my current reality that the bottom of Alice's rabbit hole would be more familiar. The woman said "I want to live again." The woman has cancer. Terrible, stage IV, cannibalizing cancer that is as terminal as such things get. I did not feel very much in listening to the words, and I was outwardly uneffected by the deep emotion that drove the expression from her lips. The words played over me, however, again and again, like occasional waves of icy water sweeping over a low concrete pier. And I am effected. Down here, in my well of souls, where I really live.

I have heard those five words before, and they were delivered to me in the same awful tone of pain and justice denied. Vietnam. I was a company commander there. One of the many responsibilities I had was to see to the last moments of Marines dying under my command. Choppers did not come in until dawn during those early years of helicopter medivac technology. My wounded-in-the-night boys, who could not make it to the dawn 'dust-off' spent there last few minutes with me. The only technology we had to ease their passing was called morphine. They waited, after getting the injections, and I waited with them. And they spoke. They spoke of home. They spoke of pain. But almost all said those five words "I want to live again" before they passed.

I don't speak of those days, those many hours, or about all those boys very much. The material does not seem to lend itself to 'war-story' fashioning of any sort. And, as the years have gone by, I have come to respect those boys memory by not making them a feature of my writing, unless it be here, where names and identities do not appear.

The woman who is dying does not deserve to die either. Her case is not quite as critically poignant because she is not as young as the kids who went into the night over there. She has been around for awhile. But she is still going early, and her years here have been years of great goodness, kindness and thoughtful compassion. And she does not want to go. That none of us do is no consolation to her whatever. That some of us don't want to hang on as badly as she does would never even occur to her. My own wounds, several times, took me to the very edge of that black abyss. I looked over. I even felt like I went over once. And it did not seem so bad at all. The intervening years have never allowed that feeling to leave me. And that feeling has kept me warm on many a cold night. I would give that feeling to this woman but that is not possible, and I know it. There is no way to verbally guide a person through her situation.

This wonderful woman is going to walk through that proverbial valley one day soon. There is comfort inside me, as, even with my twisted belief system about such things, I think that she will be joining some really great kids who went through there so many years before.


  1. Anonymous (Thank you) has hugged fire. This same fire that is only warm at the gape of the Abyss.
    This is a profoundly touching article. It shows a man who is able to embrace what we do not normally allow consciously. It also shows a human being who anguishes with the inability to 'touch in' and then the need to 'leave behind' what is grasping to his reach. I hope this warmth turns to a living fire for him, a healing fire for him and those he loves and touches with his words.