Something off my list
On Tuesday morning I got up at 6:15, did the usual, and took the Metro to the Federal Triangle stop. It was a longer walk down the Mall to my destination than I expected, so I got my daily exercise too.
I have not been downtown in Washington since the statues were added to the Wall. I know they were erected chiefly to satisfy those whose sense of the monumental demands figures in bronze, and I also know they have been derided as artistically hokey. The male tryptych is: it has no fair chance, because the Wall overwhelms it totally. I did not go to see that group of statuary. I did not even go to see the Wall again: too many ghosts there.
I went to see the womens' memorial. For anyone who saw the nurses of that war doing their job, the memorial has a power that transcends the admitted limits of its artistic merit.
I went to thank one of those nurses.
It's just as well that it was early morning, foggy in Foggy Bottom, with no one around to watch another old guy crying his eyes out....For all the time I've spent living with those memories, this time the emotion and tears still came as a surprise. I had any number of pretty speeches in my head: couldn't do them. I just managed a "thank you," then went away when I got back under control.
Here's some of the pretty speech.
Thank you, Miss W. All of you should have more thanks than I can give, but it's you I remember best. You came on watch gleaming in the whites that the other nurses weren't wearing. You never lost it. You laughed and smiled and made a ward full of hurt, young, self-absorbed men feel like they had a reason for recovery. Some did not recover, and you handled that too. I suspect that you were playing a part, the angel of mercy, perhaps to control your own emotions. As you played it, you became it.
I always hope the price was not too high for you, that you found a way to step back from those hurt people, and so many awful wounds, and let the pain out without it destroying you. I know that pain has destroyed others.
We are all getting old now, those who survive. I hope life has given you all that you wanted of it, joy and smiles, happiness, prosperity. Life could not possibly give you all that you deserve.
In behalf of the 4th floor medical-surgical ward, Philadelphia Naval Hospital, 1970