SOLDIER

Year of our Lord: Two-thousand and thirteen

Season: Winter

Month: January

Day: Thursday

Date: Tenth

Time: Forty-two minutes after eleven o'clock at night

Outside St. Francis Hospital, the wind blew with ferocity. It was cold and carried snowflakes. The moon, in all its fullness, sat high in the clear black sky. Hundreds of twinkling stars accompanied it. They all gazed down upon the building and all who inhabited it. On the seventh floor, a young nurse, named Jennifer, was busy at the nursing station. She was completing some paper work. Her break was coming up, so she was trying to get it done as soon as possible. Within a couple of minutes, she did. She then filed it properly.

With that done, she now had a few minutes to spare. Instead of starting her break early, she decided to check up on one of her patients. The patient's name was Jack…and he was in hospice. He had Stage IV cancer. He was admitted only a week ago. She never took care of him, so she was interested in seeing him for the first time. However, she hoped that she wouldn't have to say long because she wanted to go on break.

She left the station and walked down the left hallway. It was located at the very end, near a window. When she reached the room, she didn't go in. Instead, she took a moment to look out the window. Whenever she was near a window in this place, she had to gaze out it. She had to remind herself that there was something else beyond these walls. She was here so much, she felt as if this place was the entire world. When she was done, she entered the room.

The drab colors were the first things she noticed whenever she entered a room. She didn't care for them, but that's the way it was. There was one window on the right wall and a chair to its left. As for Jack, he lay in his bed motionless with only a morphine pump to keep him company. He was asleep with his head facing the window. She first walked up to the window, which was to the right of his bed. She looked through it.

After a few seconds, she walked up to morphine pump to make sure it had enough morphine and that it was working correctly. Since everything seemed to be in order, she decided to leave for her break. She walked back to the door. As she did this, Jack's eyes slowly opened up. That was the only movement he made because he was very weak. He wanted to save what little strength he did have left for something much more important. As she was about to leave, she heard a weak and quiet voice.

"I was born in 1923," he said.

She barely made out his words. Nevertheless, he stopped in her tracks. After a second, she turned around.

"Excuse me," she said. "What did you say?"

"I was born in 1923," he said again.

She didn't understand why he was doing this. She didn't even know what he was trying to do in the first place. All she knew was that she didn't want to stay and talk because it was time for her break. However, she decided to. She'd feel too much guilt if she just left him like this. After all, socializing with her patients was part of the job. Who knew, maybe he'd fall back asleep and she'd be able to leave guilt free.

She walked back to the window and placed her hands on the chair. She moved it closer to him and sat down. She did this so she'd be able to hear him better. She figured that he couldn't speak much louder, and if he could, she wouldn't want him to anyway. It'd be an unnecessary added strain on a person in his condition.

"Hello," she said. "Just to let you know, I'm Jennifer. I'm your nurse for tonight."

"It's nice to meet you," he said. "My name is Jack."

"I know," she said. "Your name's on the information board in this room."

"As I was saying earlier," he said, "I was born in 1923 in Houston, Texas. When I turned 20, I was drafted into the United States military. After basic training, my first mission was to participate in Operation Overlord, more commonly known as D-Day."

This was absolutely remarkable to her. She learned about this battle in school, but she never met anyone who actually was involved with it. She couldn't believe that she was about to become one of the privileged few who could say that they received information about it from someone who was actually there. An opportunity such as this would never rear its head again in her lifetime. In fact, most people never got an opportunity like this in their own lives.

"When we landed on the beach," he continued, "a mortar bomb landed in our landing boat. The door wasn't even opened yet so we were all trapped. It exploded and killed most of the men on board. I was one of the few survivors. It blew me out of the boat and into the water. It was shallow, so I didn't have to swim. I then ran up the beach with the others like we were supposed to."

She just sat in her seat and listened. After a few moments, she spoke.

"I can't even begin to imagine what that was like," she said.

"I don't expect you to," he said. "You can only fully understand something like that if you were there."

She actually had a question for him, but she didn't want to ask it. She was afraid that it'd be too impolite and personal. Therefore, she just let him continue his story.

"While on the beach," he said, "I did something that I thought I'd never do. It was the first time I killed someone. In fact, I killed several."

He had just answered it. She looked into his tired brown eyes for a moment trying to decide how to respond to this. She finally came up with a response.

"Do you regret it?" she asked. "Do you regret killing those men?"

He just laid there and said nothing. She feared that she may have crossed a line. She was about to apologize, but before she could, he spoke.

"No," he said. "No, I do not. I understood why we were there and why we had to do what we had to do. The Bible teaches that it is our duty to fight evil whenever it appears, and that's what we did. If we hadn't fought them, they would've gone on to commit even more atrocities than they already had. They could've even taken over our country. Therefore, the reason was just."

He coughed.

"After I finished my tour of duty," he said. "I came back to Houston where I began working as a welder. Not shortly after that, I met a woman named Veronica. We got married and lived there for many years. We wanted to have children, but we couldn't. She died two years ago. You now know why I lay here before you alone."

"But you're not alone," she said. "I'm here with you."

He mustered of some strength and gave her a little smile.

"If you don't mind me asking," she said, "do you have any regrets?"

"Yes," he said. "I have but only one. Every now and then I think about why I survived that day, as for the whole war itself, but my fellow soldiers didn't. Why was I fortunate enough to live, but them not?"

"Don't feel guilty about that," she said. "You had nothing to do with it. Things happen that can't be explained."

"Maybe you're right," he said. "I'm sure they wouldn't have wanted me to feel that way anyway."

She felt happy for him that his conscious was completely wiped clean of any guilt for killing those he had to or for surviving, while his fellow soldiers did not. Living with any regrets of this magnitude was one of the worst punishments anybody could place upon themselves. As for her, she felt he made the right decision too. He did nothing wrong in either case.

"I have a question," she said. "Why did you tell me all of this?"

"One reason: I want to be remembered," he said. "Since I told you my story, I'll now live on inside of your mind as well as in your heart. If you tell others what I told you this day, I'll also live on inside of them as well."

His breathing started to slow down. She could sense what was happening, but she didn't want to believe it. She wasn't ready for it yet. She tried to hold back some tears, but one managed to escape and run down her face.

"If you must shed tears my child," he said, "do not shed ones of sadness. Instead, shed ones of joy. God is calling me back home. Pretty soon, my suffering will end and I will be reunited with Veronica. Only then, will my life truly begin."

He closed his eyes. After a few more seconds, his breathing stopped. His real tour of duty had come to an end. Jennifer sat in the chair and looked at the clock. It read 11:58 PM. She then looked back at him and began to contemplate everything he had just told her. She then thought about how she made the right decision of not taking her break. If she did in fact leave when she wanted to, he very well may have still passed away. However, he would have done it alone. She was grateful that wasn't what happened. She was grateful that he passed away with someone at his side, even if it was a stranger. She sat up and moved the chair back to its original place. She then looked at him again.

"Don't fret," she said. "I'll tell others about you and what you did. You won't be forgotten, I promise."

She then walked back to the door. However, she didn't walk through. She turned around instead. She had to look at him one last time.

"Jack," she said, "you were a soldier for this country. You were a soldier for God. You were a soldier for life. You were indeed…a soldier."

She then exited.