There are days when the sun shines that it is dark and unperceiving of anything but the unhappiness we find there. It is well to say good things and think good thoughts but the outcome of such a day is sadness personified. The soul doesn't soar nor is the mind easy to shut down and the pain of it all seems unbearable. You don't get there by not forming friendships or by any other means than loving and caring and sharing.
World War II had ended and it seemed the air was filled with renewal as a nation of people went back to dreaming, planning, and taking a direction that catered to their brighter side and made the world seem a lot better. The soldiers had come home and their uniforms were put away. The church bells beckoned the faithful and the ringing of the bells was a pleasant sound on a Sunday morning. A lot of hearts had to be healed and a great deal of patience was needed to help those who came back with injuries and damage to their bodies and minds. The religious leaders worked hard to console the souls of families whose men had gone away in this life and gave what comfort they could to those who had come home.
One such person was known in the neighborhood as gentle Jack. He had come home with some limitations physically, but mentally he was a beacon of hope. He had injuries to his legs. The right leg looked all right but he had trouble putting any weight upon it and needed crutches to get along. The left leg was more noticeable as it was not straight but it could take some weight, although not for very long. His left arm was not fully useful but he could tuck a crutch under it. He had some serious scars along the left side of his face but there were two big round blue eyes that you noticed right away that softened his look plus a smile as big as outdoors. His laughter was contagious, sounding like it came from deep inside of him. When it got to the surface, that laugh just naturally spilled out and was a pleasant sort of chortling.
Jack shuffled along, using his crutches as best he could. The combination of making everything work for him gave the appearance of a guy going forward with a look of being just off kilter. It was almost as if he took two steps forward and half a step back. We noticed over time that he became pretty adept at getting around but always with great difficulty. It was hardest on him in the winter but I never heard him complain. His injuries were extensive. The war had spit him out and left him for dead but he perservered and came home to a world far different from the one he had left.
What made Jack stand out was his ability to be happy and to make others feel good just to be around him. There was no pity party and whatever he felt in the wee hours of the morning never left his lips. He lived simply and had a small house on our street. It was just a one bedroom but as neat as a pin. Jack did the yard work and he had a garden, flowers, and a favorite spot on his porch where he sat in the summer evenings looking out at the world before him. Neighbors would often stop and talk to him and I could hear him relating something he had learned or felt strongly about and saying it so clearly that there was no doubt as to what he meant. His conversations were full of details that many of us would not have noticed. He was a member of the Veteran's Administration and they met often. He would be picked by one of the group and brought home after the meeting.
His ravaged body somehow enhanced Jack's countenance. He felt comfortable around people which, when you consider it, was on its own a great accomplishment.
Jack never talked about family and we used to wonder about where he came from and what was his story. We didn't pry and he didn't say and the neighbors watched over him. It was a beautiful thing. Little things were done for him without a lot of fanfare. The paperboy put his newspaper in a holder while everyone else got their paper thrown on a porch, doorway, or yard. Jack was invited to anything going on the neighborhood. He found himself the recipient of pies, baked goods, and savory dishes which he welcomed and accepted in such a way that endeared him to all of us.
It got harder for Jack over a few years and yet he kept things up but he had slowed down and there was more pain in his eyes. One day as I went by his place, there he was pulling himself along the ground weeding his garden and attending to the flowers and still cutting the grass. You would say, "How are you doing, Jack?" and his classical reply was, "I got a hitch in my get-along but I work it the best I can." Sometimes when speaking with him there were moments when you could see he had trouble with his breathing. There were some moments of concern but he would bounce back and laugh and say, "Don't be nervous; it comes and goes but I like it when it goes."
Jack didn't want any help but never was pushy about it. He just smiled and said, "Oh, I need to work and you need to let me." He loved kids and we always felt the neighborhood would not be the same without Jack.
Then one day the word came to us. Jack had just keeled over at his house while sweeping the front porch. He had died of a heart attack and suddenly he was gone. The neighbors gathered around and there was little conversation at first, then the praises and accolades came forth in a way that showed such respect. Eyes were wiped and I looked over and there was a veteran who had paused in front of Jack's house. He raised his arm to a salute with tears running down his cheek. Jack had only been with us about five years but what an impression he left upon us. I heard neighbors talking about him a few days later and they said they had learned that Jack had just worn down from all his injuries until his heart just gave out.
Jack had been given some medals for his service with the Canadian Army and though he never displayed them or said anything to the neighborhood, his friends at the VA hospital said his injuries during the war came from holding back a small armored group. He had taken a direct hit but managed to give his comrades time to get out of harm's way. He was buried with full military honors and the veterans who showed up were considerable. Most of the neighborhood was there. Some words were spoken but it was the words that were not spoken that filled the air.
A happy decent man had left the earth and those around him had become his family. Jack had lived in pain and discomfort but always with a cheerful heart.
For a while it seemed that when I went by his house I could hear his laughter and see those blue eyes drinking in all around him and giving encouragement to all he met. The man we knew had embraced us and we had been part and parcel to his needs, although they were few, but that was the wonder of it. I was just a young boy but now, years later, I realize how God manages to make such noble creatures is one for the books. How he keeps them noble is one for the ages.