An Ancient Warriors End
Standing in the V.A. hospital’s enormous lobby,
I’d gotten self-absorbed,
as if standing in an airport full of strangers,
equally preoccupied with their destination.
Just being there made me feel uneasy.
On some level,
I viewed what appeared to be assembly-line medical care
as beneath me somehow.

A crippled old man shuffled past,
and something about him caught my eye.
He was badly bent at the waist,
his upper body tilted forward in a permanent lean.
He didn’t ask for help,
I just tagged along
careful not to crowd him.
I watched him take a short step with his right leg,
briefly pausing to slide his left beneath him
while concurrently jabbing the rubber tip of his walking cane
in the floor’s general direction.
His considerable physical movements
were repeated with every step.

His warped back prevented our eyes from meeting,
and I found myself gazing at splotches atop his head.
What few white hairs remained
would have been invisible
without a glistening of cream,
and a passing comb had persuaded most
to point in the same direction.
His hands looked ancient
and while examining the twisted,
badly gnarled fingers clutching his cane,
I decided that I liked him.
I knew he’d been a warrior once,
a very long time ago,
and though I couldn't picture him then,
I could feel it.

A pair of lightly frayed maroon suspenders
hugged his back and shoulders’ tight
but didn’t touch his sunken chest.
The elastic only exaggerated his physical uniqueness,
pulling his trousers not only upwards but outwards,
preventing them from getting near his body.
He frequently,
 but discreetly checked himself,
before using his cane’s curved handle
to coax his shirt to the correct side of his pants.
His clothes were at least two sizes too large,
making his weight loss more obvious.
Freshly sewn tuck lines along the back of his trousers’
suggested his seamstress could hardly keep pace.
Whenever he sat,
his thin arms were swallowed by a short-sleeved shirt
but the remnants of a small,
faded tattoo remained intermittently visible on a liver-spotted forearm
though it was no longer decipherable.
His vintage Bulova’s worn exterior
belied the reliable movements
of its relentless hands,
and rendered the fountain pen in his breast pocket,
though someone might need it.
Men of his generation were taught to carry writing instruments
to symbolize preparedness,
or perhaps even literacy.
He didn’t seem impressed with style
and his attire might have been dated,
but it was clean
and precisely pressed.
Clearly, he was a man who didn't leave home
until properly dressed and groomed
as would befit the occasion.

Time had long since repossessed all visible evidence
that he’d ever been anything but old,
making it easier to forget,
once upon a time,
in the eyes of a young mother,
his was the brightest light that shined.
He’d relinquished much to time,
but not a shred of his stooping dignity.
We spent the day together,
traveling from one medical station
to the next.
I made a chair available to him at each,
but initially,
he ignored them
and stood all morning.
After lunch,
he became visibly tired,
and eased his crooked body into every chair I found.
Even sitting,
his lean was more pronounced,
and he began placing his cane beneath his chest for support.
Every time he wobbled to his feet,
it forced an involuntary sound
from his hollow chest.
It was part groan,
part sigh,
but a certain sign he hurt.
Discomfort couldn’t be seen on his face,
though his body communicated it,
undoubtedly against his will,
and by mid-afternoon his crippled hands trembled nonstop.

No words passed between us that day
nor did we bother with goodbyes.
It really wasn’t necessary.
Besides, what few time he spoke to staff
couldn’t be heard above my tinnitus.
Before leaving the hospital,
I felt something smoldering inside me,
that rekindled an ancient warmth.
It was still just as powerful as the first time I felt it,
aboard a crowded troop bus
when a black sergeant reminded me
that we were all in this together.
we were still in it together.
We had always helped each other,
just because there was a need,
because we cared,
because we were loyal,
and because we promised each other we would.
We committed ourselves to rules
with no expiration date.
We didn’t leave or abandon each other
and there would always be room for another GI.

On the way home,
I was grateful to leave the hospital,
glad I didn't have to stay.
Just the same,
I hoped it would still be there
if I needed to go back.

Waggy   Waggy wrote
on 5/3/2008 7:20:34 PM
What a moving piece. I truly enjoyed the read.

Warriorprincess55   Warriorprincess55 wrote
on 5/3/2008 7:16:33 PM
Excellent description! You wrote this so well that I was there at the VA while reading this. Having been at the VA on several occassions myself, I was sitting right beside you and the old man as I read your words. This story touched my heart and I throughly enjoyed reading it. Love is the greatest gift of all. God bless.

Raven Spirit   Raven Spirit wrote
on 5/3/2008 3:49:16 PM
I can feel the weight of the world here upon the shoulders of the crippled man ... stooped over. I can feel traces of dry warmth in his hands. Then I could sense solace within you and I smelled the partially clean institutional smell that surrounded the two of you. This is very powerful and conveys that there are numerous ways to be loving. This is a marvelous piece.

lindsay   lindsay wrote
on 5/3/2008 10:59:31 AM
Fabulous descriptions-- I could visualize every crease in the old mans face and every wrinkle in his clothes.

writing rcblove
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A day at the V.A. hospital.