In Retrospect

Posted on December 2, 2010


He sits beside the window which looks onto the street, watching occasional cars drive past. Blue jays, mockingbirds and starlings conduct their noisy business in the big tree by the street, and now and then a squirrel will scamper past. The sun is declining westward, its full light bathing the entire front of the house. He sweats a little in the sun’s heat, but his discomfort isn’t enough to cause him to move.

He spends most of his day here looking out the window. What happens outside, which is little enough, doesn’t really interest him, but merely gives his eyes something to grasp. Everything important has already happened and is behind him now, echoing in the memory of the house.

His wife is dead twelve years now, though she is never far away. He feels– he knows– she’s waiting for him somewhere nearby. His daughter is grown, living on the other side of the continent. She calls once a week or so. He’s proud enough of her, though she never married or gave him grandchildren. She was too restless for that, too taken by fanciful notions that she had bigger things to do. He frets now and then about who will look after her when he’s gone, when she wakes up and realizes all those lofty dreams of hers were just dreams. He hopes she hasn’t missed her chance, at thirty years of age, to find a suitable husband and settle down.

Why, by the time he was her age, he’d fought in World War II and seen Europe and North Africa. He had learned his trade as a radiologist and was already at work in the hospital where he spent his whole career. His daughter flits from one thing to another, unwilling to commit to anything stable and sensible. His wife would have a few things to say about that if she were still here.

He shifts his weight in the chair. He doesn’t like to think about the war, or about how big the world is beyond his door. The war had been a righteous one against the forces of evil, and he’d been caught up in the fervor with the rest of his generation. He’d been called on to do horrible things in battle, had seen his friends blown to pieces by enemy artillery. Only when the fervor faded and life returned to its own business did he begin to realize the price everyone had paid for their ideals.

His daughter asked him once or twice about his time in war, the things he’d seen. He couldn’t talk about that with her, though. He didn’t want her to know what kind of man he’d been then. He wanted to protect her from the violence in the world.

Later on in his life he’d found God and made his peace with Him about the war. He’d prayed for and received forgiveness for the lives he’d taken. He’d been comforted for all the blood he’d seen. He’ll go to heaven when he dies, though he can’t be sure about those who weren’t lucky enough to make it off the battlefield. But that’s up to God now, and he has to be content with that. God is merciful. Some of the younger folks at church say He’s even merciful to heathens and unbelievers. He shudders a little and says a quick prayer to protect himself from blasphemy, in case his thoughts should offend the Lord.

The sun has dipped behind the big tree now, and cooling shade fills the window. He shifts in the chair again. This is where his wife used to sit, looking out the window just as he does now. He misses her. She was hard as nails, but she was the love of his life. She’d deserved better than him.

Between the war ending and the time he met her, he’d been a wild thing, something of a ladies’ man. Even during the five years they dated and the first few years of their marriage, he’d had difficulty settling down with just her. But then she found a receipt for a watch he’d bought for some floozy. She gave him the worst tongue-lashing he’d ever had. No drill sergeant could match her when she got riled up. After that argument, he was all hers.

He smiles at the memory of her wrath, and his wrinkled face colors with shame at his old indiscretions. She forgave him long ago, once she believed he’d changed his ways, once their daughter came. And later, God forgave him for it, too. He still has moments when he can’t forgive himself, though, and he works on his faith every day.

His daughter sometimes encourages him to meet someone new, and there’s a couple of widows at church who give him the eye now and then. But he won’t have it, and his daughter just doesn’t understand. He still loves his wife, and he’ll be faithful to her till the day he dies. His conscience will be clear when he meets her again.

It’s sunset now. Another day fades away, another night reaches over the world. He sighs and gets up to turn on the lights. He goes into the kitchen to make himself some dinner, which he’ll eat while he watches the nightly news. Then he’ll talk to his daughter or some of his friends from church on the phone. Checking in, touching base. Marking his time as it winds to its end.

At last it’s time for bed. He lays his head on the pillow and wonders, as he does most nights, if he’ll wake up tomorrow. He doesn’t fear death. In fact, he would welcome it now. He’s at peace with his imperfect life. There’s a home waiting for him in heaven, and he’s eager to see his wife again.

“Lord,” he prays, “I’m ready when You are.”

His heart untroubled, he drifts to sleep.