In advance of Remembrance Day this Friday, Lyle Dillabough sends us this eloquent and moving story.
He was just an old man. A face on the corner, a shadow along the street and no one in particular. A nobody that no one cared to know and sadly most never would. And that fact would count as a huge loss to them all.
He was the butt of jokes, rumor and gossip. He was feared, avoided and scorned, yet the truth was nobody really knew why because it had been going on for so long. It just was.
Folks said that he had been in the war but he didn’t hang out at the legion and never marched with the other veterans on Remembrance Day. In fact, know one ever saw him anywhere on Remembrance Day and this was true because they wouldn’t.
In his working years he had held a job down at the lumber yard but didn’t hang out with the other workmen much after hours and kept pretty much to himself. He never bothered anyone nor did he cause trouble but still made people uneasy because he was, well… weird.
On Saturday mornings he would eat breakfast alone at the local diner and on Sunday mornings sat at the back of a local church and then would quietly slip out the back once the service was over. A strange man indeed.
Therefore, know one would know, or could know of course; that this quiet, strange man had once fought in some of the greatest theaters and battles in Europe during the Second World War. Wouldn’t know that he had earned so many medals that he would likely have difficulty holding his head up now should he try to wear them all at once now upon his breast.
They could never possibly know what it felt like to watch so many of his fellow soldiers and friends die at his feet in the blood, muck and total disgust that is called a battlefield. Nor could they wonder, as he had, why and what it was all for?
And who but God himself could explain why it was him who had lived while the others did not? If only he could have that question answered…!
How does one explain the responsibility for, not only living one’s own life, but also the lives of others left behind to those who could never understand? The simple answer is that you don’t and you can’t. So you must carry it silently within yourself.
This is the reason why each year, on Remembrance Day, this lonely old man appeared at the Cenotaph late at night long after the others have gone and the town was asleep. And each year he’d see them there as they gathered with him. For they are forever young and they acknowledged their beloved captain with a salute and warm smiles as he did likewise to them.
Then from his coat he’d withdraw a bottle of rum and a pack of smokes which he passed amongst his men and they’d share and celebrate life together. “It’s a good life after all boys.” Declared the captain. “Especially as it it you lads who live and beat within my heart and I can only hope that I did well and did you lads proud as you did likewise for me.”
Then from somewhere a bugle would sound and a piper would begin to play. A breeze would start to blow and carried on down through those very same streets where a strange, quiet lonely old man was known to walk. One whom we all would do well to travel in shoes such as he had worn.