Last week I asked a psychiatrist friend whether he has been seeing increased levels of stress in his patients. “Yes,” he said with no pause or hesitation. “Universally.”
Our political stripes could hardly be more different today as we watch the House impeachment hearings. But we’re all under stress, and we’re all Americans. When we’re stressed, we do strange things. Some of us clam up. Some of us scream and shout. Some of us need company. Which led me to think again this morning about to the stress test waiting room with a World War II veteran named Bill. I wonder what Bill might say.
Bill in the Stress Test Waiting Room
He sits by himself in the hospital waiting room.
“Where you from?” he asks, as if welcoming the stranger who’s come to his home for a stress test.
“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. Chatting with strangers when I’m gathering myself when I’m under stress, waiting for a stress test, is the last thing I want.
“C h a s k a!” I repeat.
“Oh! I’m from Waconia! I’m Bill.”
His gowned wife, fresh off the treadmill, returns from her stress test.
“This is my wife, Jane. She’s a lot younger than I am. I’m 96.”
“Ninety-four,” says the younger wife. “We’ve been together 15 years.”
“Chaska’s the county seat,” says Bill. “That’s where i was sworn in.” (Clearly, he’s an extrovert. He feels better when he has guests.)
“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.
Bill’s body is with us, but he’s not here. He’s back at Normandy Beach on D-Day.
“That’s a lot of death,” I say. “A lot of killing. A lot of loss.”
He looks up, nods, and drops his head again.
“Post-traumatic 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 stand to leave the stress test waiting room, Bill reaches up to say good-bye with a firm handshake and friendly smile for the whippersnapper from Chaska.
I leave the waiting room and get on the treadmill, reminded that there is stress and there is stress, knowing that mine bears no comparison to Bill’s and thankful for a few moments with a 94 year-old who has every reason to think he’s 96.
Today and tomorrow, as I tune into the televised public hearings on impeachment, I’m wondering what would Bill say?
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 13, 2019.