Sunday, May 24, 2009
Bernard and the Star-Spangled Banner
Bernard had always loved baseball. When he was a kid he had an old tire in his backyard and he used to hit the tire with his bat and also try and throw a strike through the center of it. He could still go there in his mind sometimes, but not as much as he liked anymore, and it made him angry. He once heard the nurse tell someone he was a "discipline problem” and he vaguely remembered that that wasn't a good thing. It was just that he wanted to be alone, and didn't see how his withering away was anyone's problem but his own.
He had been a proud man, an officer in the United States Army, and now he was in a wheelchair and couldn't even spit out a sentence without it sounding like gibberish. They told him he had had a stroke and he remembered the men coming into his house and then bringing him into the home, but there were huge patches of his life he just couldn't bring back anymore. He looked up from these frustrating thoughts and a woman was putting a white bib around his neck, and he angrily took it off and threw it on the ground.
"Now Bernard, if you keep that up you won't get to come to the Independence Day Party this afternoon," the woman scolded him.
He grunted back to her and begrudgingly let her put the bib back onto his chest. Independence Day? He thought to himself. Did she mean the Fourth of July? He closed his eyes and tried very hard to make his brain work correctly for a moment. And then he remembered, yes of course, the Fourth of July! He remembered coming back from World War 2 and how that next Fourth of July had been the most meaningful of his life. He had met his wife at the USO and they had even bought a little house with the help of the GI bill. He thought about all of the friends he had lost during World War 2 and how God had somehow spared him. Why him? He had often wondered. What had he done to be spared when so many others didn't come home? These thoughts had come rushing into his head, and now he was tired and confused by all the activity his brain had conjured up. He nodded off to sleep in his chair and reluctantly gave way to sleep.
When Bernard awoke, he looked up and he was in the middle of some kind of party. There were Red, White, and Blue streamers all over, and someone had put a party hat on his head. He looked towards the television and some men were throwing a baseball around, and he smiled and turned his attention that way. Looking around the room he saw that it was a party and he thought he might as well enjoy it. He began wheeling towards the television and got immediately exhausted. Bernard hadn't stood up in many, many years, and even a little exercise made him very tired. He heard a woman announce to the room,
"Let's all listen to the Star-Spangled Banner"...
And then he remembered, the Fourth of July!! He turned to the television and heard the words.
"Oh say can you see, by the dawn's early light!"
And he knew what he had to do. He summoned all of the strength he had and begun pushing himself up out of his chair. As he stood up he removed his hat and placed it over his heart, and the words came back to him like it was yesterday. He began singing the words out loud and as he did a single tear ran down his cheek, but no matter. It was the Fourth of July and he remembered what this day had meant to him, what he had done for his country, and the men who hadn't made it back. He continued to sing until the energy left his body and he slumped back down into his chair.