Friday, November 22, 2013

Letter to My Son

                                                                                                               28 October
                                                                                                               Bedford Falls

               My dearest son,

               Your compliments to me at the dinner table tonight were greatly appreciated. We have had our issues over the years, you and I, and neither of us is exceptional at communicating; but I believe we both know how much we love and care for one another whether it is spoke aloud or hidden in the heart. I want you to know that I treasure you not only as my loyal companion and fellow worker these past four years, but also because you are my son, my joy, the hope of my years and the comfort of my soul. You have given me such great pleasure over the years as you have grown into manhood, into a life of service, into a life that puts others' interests ahead of his own. You make me proud to be your father.
                Ah! My son, if I could impart the wisdom of the Ages to you, it would be a mere reiteration of the Scriptures you know so well. Love others as I have loved you. Keep my commandments. Show your faith by doing good works. All these things you know, and you do, and may I be forgiven for expressing some small hope that you might have learned some of that by my own example?
                I have tried to live a good life, tried to watch out for my fellow man, tried to give back from the bounty I have been given, tried to ease others' burdens, tried to make my fellow traveler's lives just a little bit easier. It has not been easy, and there were times when discouragement and pessimism nearly destroyed me; but through the strength God gave me, and the love and encouragement of your mother, I have persevered.
                Now we face yet another storm on the horizon, and something in me tells me that I may not be around to help you through it. My body is weak and tired, the headaches have been getting worse, and it feels as though I could lay down and sleep for a thousand years. I am afraid; not for myself, because I know where I am going when this body's time is done. But I fear for you, because you are young and ambitious and impatient and you have your whole life ahead of you, and with all that on your mind, with the endless mystery and enchantment of the world before you, what chance do the pitiful dreams of a few worthless souls have of being heard by your heart? They are not your blood, not your kin; and their dreams of a roof over their head and some bread on the table are nothing in comparison to yours. Yes, I have seen your dreams: in the way your eyes light up when you read those magazines of yours, when you look out across the valley and think of the challenges in the big cities so far away, when you hear the train whistle and that wistful look comes over you. You long to leave, to do things I cannot even imagine, and if it were in my power to grant you the wealth and opportunity necessary to see those dreams come true, you know that I would do it. You are my son, and my love for you is boundless. Yet -
                I would have you consider the worth of a man, the worth of every man, in comparison to the dreams of your accomplishments. The world is filled with people's dreams, people's aspirations; and while some are grand and amazing to our eyes, others are judged to be ridiculous simply because they are short-sighted, barely beyond the next day's dawning. This is more a fault of circumstance than the quality of their dreams. A hungry man can think of nothing else but his next meal; a sick man cannot plan his life more than a few moments in advance. You live in relative comfort, and that comfort grants you the ability to expand your dreams far beyond the immediate. As others live from hand to mouth, may they be forgiven for having pedestrian dreams?
                So when they come to you with their hands outstretched and their eyes pleading, do not dismiss them as incumbrences and burdens, but accept that your lot in life is to share what you have, to lift up those who cannot lift themselves, and consider all things to be gifts given of God, not for any one man in particular but for all Mankind in the collective. And if you do these things, no matter how high a goal you attain or how low a situation you find yourself, you will always be blessed by those whom you help, for they will call you a true friend.
                My time is short. I can feel things falling apart inside. Do not blame God for it; we are tasked to do with what we have, and I have had a good run here in this place. My wife is the glory of my days, and my children are the beacon of my hope. In you I place all my own dreams, not so that you can abandon your own to see my own fulfilled, but so that you may be their caretaker, their talespinner; in the years to come, you may speak of me to your own children and grandchildren, telling them who I was, how I was, what I was. And I would have you speak to them not of my glories or my failings, but of my dreams, the thoughts that captured my heart and drove me onward through this life disregarding the obstacles in my path.
                Do that for me, my son. Don't let the things for which I have stood be dismantled by those who would dismiss them as useless fantasies. Stand up for what is right and good, be strong when all around you are weak, help those who are in trouble, and be a blessing to the world no matter what you do.
                I love you, son.

                Peter Bailey

p.s. Please don't think too harshly of Potter; he's

Editor's note: 
This is the unfinished letter found beside Peter Bailey the night of his stroke; he died two days later without regaining consciousness

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Old Man's Valentine



The old man in the tattered driving cap opened the door to his warm, comfortable little house and walked inside, placing his briefcase beside the door for the very last time and pulling the scarf from around his neck.   The radio was playing a lively waltz. The wonderful smell of fresh-baked cookies filled the air and he smiled, picturing his wifeby the oven, wearing an apron sprinkled with flour, her half-moon spectacles balanced firmly on her nose, her bright cheeks flushed with accomplishment, a smile spread across her face as wide and warm and inviting as the summer sun.  He paused, listening for the sound of her muffled footsteps.  There.  She was in the kitchen, of course.  By the oven.  He could see in his mind's eye the metal sheet filled with cookies as she laid it carefully on the cooling trays, her hands encased in green oven mitts, her nostrils flaring as she bent down and tested the quality of her work with a practiced sniff.

"Welcome home!" she called out.

"It's good to be home," he answered.  And it was.  He pulled off his coat as he walked to the closet and opened the door.  There were very few coats left in the closet, not nearly as many as there once had been.  Plenty of hangers from which to choose.  He picked one randomly and placed it inside his coat, then hung it back up near the center, slightly to the right.  Next to hers.  They looked so small in that huge empty space.  Lots of room.

He closed the closet door and walked into the kitchen.  She met him there and they wrapped their arms around each other, kissing one another affectionately - twice - and then stood still for a moment, feeling the warmth passing between them.

She giggled.  "You must really like that hat," she said mischievously.  "What?" He reached up and touched his head.  Yes, his hat was still on his head.  He grinned and pulled it off, tossing it carelessly onto the kitchen table.  "I do," he said.  "But I suppose I won't need it for a while."

"No," she said, released him from her arms and stepping back to look at him.  "But you will need to wash that sweater now.  It's got flour all over it."

He looked down.  His blue sweater was lightly dusted with with snowy whiteness.  "Oh, well," he said.  "Not the first time."

She turned around so that her back was to him, and he untied the apron strings, leaning forward so that his nose was just above her hair.  He breathed deeply.  "Thanks."  "My pleasure," he said, and meant it.  She slipped the apron over her head and draped it across the back of a kitchen chair, then walked over to the couch and sat down with a sigh.  "Busy day?"

"Quite," he said, remembering it.  He walked over to the counter and looked down at the red-and-white cookies on the trays.  "Lots of paperwork to do.  Forms to fill out.  Final instructions for the team.  That sort of thing."  He touched one of the cookies, felt its softness, its warmth.  Ten more minutes, he thought.  And a glass of ice-cold milk to go with it.

"Lunch was good, though," he said, turning back to her.  "Nearly everyone was there.  Some folks I hadn't seen for a long time.  From over at the old office.  Nice to see them again.  Hard to believe it's been so many years now.  So many gray hairs now.  Some all white.  Quite a few coming up for retirement soon."

He walked over to his comfy chair which faced the couch and sat down, then sighed, an echo of hers.  "Strange.  To be done with all that."

"Now you'll finally have time for all those things you've been wanting to do for so long."  She looked at him with that smile, that wonderful smile.  So many possibilities, so many good times ahead.  He had dreamed of this moment for so many years, this moment when all those possibilities lay ahead of them, with all the time in the world to take advantage of them.  He hoped there was time.

"Yes," he said, "and we'll be able to do some traveling now, like our parents did.  Go see the kids.  Spend time with the grandkids.  See a bit of the world."

"Yes," she agreed.  "But not just yet."

"No," he said.  "Not just yet."

They sat for a moment in silence, looking at each other.  He let his mind drift aimlessly, feeling in his mind the curve of her face, the tilt of her smile, the depth of her deep brown eyes.  He could lose himself in that face.  He could still remember her face from long ago, the young girl who had captured his heart with her smile, the playful brilliance of her eyes, her humorous wit, her raw energy for living.  That face was still there, changed somewhat by time, improved by a dignity and grace of a life well lived, of many hard lessons learned, but with an energy undimmed by the years.

She laughed suddenly.  "What are you grinning about?" she asked with a flush in her cheek.

"You're beautiful," he said in a reverent tone.

"That's why you married me," she said, teasing.

"Among other reasons."

"Such as?"

"Your amazing ability to turn ordinary food into gourmet dishes.  Your financial wizardry.  Your knowledge of Classic Literature.  Your grasp of world politics. Your amazing skills with needle and thread.  Your appreciation for good music.  The way your fingers dance over a piano keyboard.  Your infatuation with Jane Austen novels.  Your devotion to Biblical studies.  There are oh, so many reasons.  How could I possibly name them all?"

She laughed again.  "Well, you've certainly given it a good start.  How can I possibly thank you enough for those kind words?"

"Oh!" He sat up straight and patted his pockets as if looking for something.  "I know just the thing."

Her brow furrowed.  "What now?"

He patted his chest.  "I know they were here somewhere..."

"What are you talking about?"

He reached inside his sweater to his shirt pocket.  "Oh, here they are!"  He pulled out a small envelope and held it up.  Her eyes widened ever so slightly.

"Symphony tickets," he said.  "Tonight.  Eight o'clock.  Would you care to accompany me, my dear?  They're playing out song."  He stood up and handed her the envelope.  She took it and pulled the flap open and looked at the contents.  Two symphony tickets.  She read the name of the selections.  Then looked up at him, her eyes twinkling.

"I would be most pleased to accompany you," she said in her best Jane Austen voice.  "And what will we be celebrating this fine evening?  Your retirement?"

He shook his head.  "The beginning of the rest of our lives," he said, taking her by the hand and pulling her close once more.  "May it be long and glorious."

"Silly old man," she whispered in his ear as they began to dance to the elegant music which filled the room.