Monday, June 27, 2011

The Box Had No Label

(Written some years after a visit to the Wall.)

There is a strange silence about the Wall, as though fifty-eight thousand souls gather there, asking for the silence. You would think the names would rage against their fate. Perhaps they know a peace we cannot yet comprehend.

I walked slowly along the paved path in front of the Wall. I wasn’t after a particular name, not even really looking at the Wall, I didn’t think, just taking in the whole thing.

The Wall is black, shiny black, and it reflects faces that stare at the names. I saw my face, but looked away.

People leave things there — medals, old jungle boots worn down to bare leather, books of poetry, notes, a teddy bear.

A teddy bear. I didn’t look long at the teddy bear, because I saw a boy’s mother cleaning out a closet or a room where things of the past lay for more than thirty years. I saw the boy’s mother open a box. The box had no label. Perhaps the boy’s mother didn’t want to remember what was inside the box. But she opened the box, and she saw the teddy bear and she fell onto the box, clutching the bear as tightly as she had clutched her son. And she cried.

The bear was her baby’s companion. The bear kept away monsters of the night. The boy slept with his bear, toddled to breakfast or off to bed or around the house, hugging the bear or holding it by an arm. Every day the boy told his mother what he and the bear had done, the places they had gone, the good people they met. And when the mother rocked her baby to sleep, the boy held his bear, his eyes closing slowly. The boy fought sleep, just as he would later fight death.

The bear waited a long time. He had nothing to do in the box. There were no monsters in the box, no frightful things to guard against,. No boy to protect.

The mother found the bear, and she took the bear to her son. She did not take the bear to some cemetery filled with strangers, but to the place where her son is, among friends. There, where his boy is, the bear can rest. All the monsters are gone now, and the bear can sleep again with his boy. The boy understands. So do his fifty-eight thousand friends. More than anyone else, more than the boys’ mother, fifty-eight thousand friends understand.

I saw the teddy bear, and I walked away quickly. I walked away quickly because my children had teddy bears.

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