He sits by himself in the hospital waiting room.
“Where you from?” he asks, welcoming the gowned stranger who’s come for a stress test.
“Chaska,” I answer.
“Where?” he asks over the whine from his hearing aids.
I’m not anxious to strike up a conversation. I’m here for a stress test. I’m an introvert. Talking with strangers when I’m going inside to cope with stress is the last thing I want in the waiting room.
“Chaska!” I repeat.
“Oh! I’m from Waconia! I’m Bill.”
He gives a broad smile as though we’re related. (Waconia and Chaska are neighbors in Carver County, MN.)
His gowned wife, fresh off the treadmill, interrupts the flow of the conversation.
“This is my wife, Jane. She’s a lot younger than I am. I’m 96.”
“94,” she the younger wife. “We’ve been together 15 years.”
“Chaska’s the county seat. That’s where i was sworn in.” [Clearly, he’s an extrovert.]
“World War II?”
“February 6, 1942. Eighty of us. A lot of guys from Chaska.”
“Where’d you serve?”
“He was part of D-Day,” answers Jane. Bill’s head sinks toward his lap. His chin begins to quiver. A long pause follows.
“Only 15 of us came back.”
“Were you injured?”
“No,” he says, forming his hands in prayer and looking up. “I don’t know why.” He falls again into silence.
He’s back on the beach at Normandy.
“That a lot of death. A lot of killing. A lot of loss,” I say.
He looks up and nods before dropping his head again.
“Posttraumatic Stress,” I say quietly to Jane. “I’m a pastor. I’ve seen it so many times with Vietnam War and Iraq War veterans.”
“I think so,” she says. “He still can’t talk about it after all these years.”
The technician calls my name. “Mr. Stewart?”
As I leave the waiting room, he reaches up to say good-bye with a firm handshake and friendly smile for the young guy from Chaska.
I get on the treadmill, reminded that there’s stress and there is stress, knowing that mine bears no comparison and thankful for a few moments with 94 year-old who has every reason to think he’s 96.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 27, 2017.