Photo credit: Kirill Simonov / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Had I only realized, I would have spent more time with them. I would have asked more questions about their lives and experiences. Now I’m left wanting to know so much more. What was I thinking?
Was I really so busy I couldn’t make time for a few extra phone calls to my mom? How much out of my way would it have been to stop in for a weekly visit? Yeah I know, life can be hectic and time is precious but I should have taken advantage of the priceless time we had together while I had the chance. There is no making up for it now.
A recent foot surgery has me confined to my chair, causing me to come up against the anxiety and loneliness of feeling shut in. It makes me wonder, was I so self absorbed that I couldn’t recognize they may also have felt emotionally isolated at times?
My father-in-law lived with us for the last few years of his life. I learned more about him in that time than ever before, but I didn’t even scratch the surface. Preoccupation with my own life usually took precedent over any spare time I could have spent learning about his.
Warren was a man of many interests but in his old age I think he reflected back on his service in WWII more than anything. It must have been a defining point in his life—the event that shaped him as a man. It’s where he discovered the world, faced fear and developed courage. As a sergeant and gunner in the USAAF he flew on sixteen bomber missions over Europe. His plane was shot down during the Ploiesti Oil Field Raids where his best friend died in his arms and he was held captive in Romania. Warren seldom shared his dark memories, but on the occasions he did we could see the lasting effect the war had on him.
One summer the military air show Wings of Freedom Tour came to town and we asked Dad if he’d like to go. He leapt at the idea like a kid offered an ice-cream cone. The morning of the show I went to his room to wake him and found him sitting on the edge of the bed, fully dressed and ready to go. He barely touched his breakfast, instead his eyes were fixed on our dining room clock as if he was trying to telekinetically advance the hands to our time of departure.
Pulling into the airport parking lot I noticed his hand already grasping the door handle as he impatiently waited for me to park the car. We put him in his wheelchair and watched as he rolled himself out onto the tarmac. A youthful glow filled his eyes as he worked his way through the exhibit surveying the aircraft he was once so familiar with. Dad asked for his cane saying, “I want to stand on my own for a while” and he did, gazing off in the distance as if he was searching for old friends on the horizon. He seemed rejuvenated in the presence of the nostalgic aircraft, yet an occasional shrinking trace of sorrow was evident in his dampening eyes.
At the end of the show Dad clung to the fence rail along the runway watching the B-17 Bomber take flight. With his white knuckled hands slightly trembling and tears spilling down his face he said, “I didn’t think I would ever see that again.” Warren died the year after that air show.
Sitting here today—confined to my chair—I’m watching the HBO war series, Band of Brothers and I can’t help but wish Warren was sitting here with me. There is so much more I want to know about his life and that causes me to wonder, how many times had he wished I would have taken a few extra moments to sit with him. What was I thinking?
Life is short—so look up from that I-Phone, I-Pad, or whatever it is that’s robbing you of a meaningful conversation with someone who has experienced the joys and trials of life. Call your parents, visit a sick friend, communicate. Make time for people, because time is something you will never get back.