What really matters

Shakespeare stated that all the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players. One man in his time plays many parts. The older age shifts along with spectacles on nose; his youthful clothes too wide for his shrunken frame; and his manly voice turning again toward childish treble. The last scene of all is second childishness and mere oblivion; without teeth, without eyes, without everything.

I say “No” to this. Yes, I feel old, so very old, and I know that I will leave this world with what I brought into it – nothing, not even teeth.

But wait. I did bring something. I brought the wonder of youth. I had life before me. All children are born with the need for others.

I wonder at the people who live in this small town. They are so full of what life is all about. My oldest son has been dead for six years now and these town’s people had never met him, but they still show me respect and honor because I had a son who is now dead. My second son has just been killed while in the United States Army serving in Iraq. The flags across South Dakota fly at half mast as I stare into space and feel so very old, so lonely and so without everything.

People come to wrap me warm with hugs. They shake my hand and strongly delay in letting go. They sit quietly, letting me know they are simply there. My kitchen table is loaded with cards, flowers, homemade cookies, and used coffee cups. My younger children brave going to school and are surrounded by friends, comforters and protectors. The churches in town don’t draw lines; members of their congregations drop by my home to offer concern. I don’t finish a sentence in whatever I was saying, and the person talking with me understands.

There are no real strangers in a small town like this one. People whom I don’t yet know well still offer condolences. Little old ladies still offer strength. Younger, strong men quietly allow me to feel old without embarrassment. Varying degrees of friends let me know that they are ex-military, but leave it at that. An unhurried silence is sometimes better than a bunch of words. Individuals who have come near to losing loved ones recall those times. Those who have actually lost loved ones don’t compare stories, but make me feel welcome in a very special group. No one says those classical stupid statements like, “I know what you must be going through” or “It’ll be easier with time” or “Do you know exactly how it happened?” Not one person has questioned me if I think the United States should be in Iraq, because that specific point doesn’t matter right now. They know that my son joined the Army and was proud of his part – whatever that was to be.

Only in this kind of small town can this kind of hurt be allowed; be survived in its own time and its own way.

We come into this world with nothing. We leave this world with a life lived and having experienced love. I can’t imagine having done so anyplace else than in a small town full of family and friends.