Now the head Englishman came into the hospital to check on Billy. He was an infantry colonel captured at Dunkirk. It was he who had given Billy morphine. There wasn't a real doctor in the compound, so the doctoring was up to him. "How's the patient?" he asked Derby.
"Dead to the world."
"But not actually dead."
"How nice--to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive."
Derby now came to lugubrious attention.
"No--no--please--as you were. With only two men for each officer, and all the men sick, I think we can do without the usual pageantry between officers and men."
Derby remained standing. "You seem older than the rest," said the colonel.
Derby told him he was forty-five, which was two years older than the colonel. The colonel said that the other Americans had all shaved now, that Billy and Derby were the only two still with beards. And he said, "You know--we've had to imagine the war here, and we have imagined that it was being fought by aging men like ourselves. We had forgotten that wars were fought by babies. When I saw those freshly shaved faces, it was a shock. 'My God, my God--' I said to myself. 'It's the Children's Crusade.'"
The colonel asked old Derby how he had been captured, and Derby told a tale of being in a clump of trees with about a hundred other frightened soldiers. The battle had been going on for five days. The hundred had been driven into the trees by tanks.
Derby described the incredible artificial weather that Earthlings sometimes create for other Earthlings when they don't want those other Earthlings to inhabit Earth any more. Shells were bursting in the treetops with terrific bangs, he said, showering down knives and needles and razorblades. Little lumps of lead in copper jackets were crisscrossing the woods under the shellbursts, zipping along much faster than sound.
A lot of people were being wounded or killed. So it goes.
Then the shelling stopped, and a hidden German with a loudspeaker told the Americans to put their weapons down and come out of the woods with their hands on the top of their heads, or the shelling would start again. It wouldn't stop until everybody in there was dead.
So the Americans put their weapons down, and they came out of the woods with their hands on top of their heads, because they wanted to go on living, if they possibly could.
The American soldiers--babies, as the colonel calls them--have a choice. They can either live as prisoners of war or die as casualties of war. Neither choice is very appealing. Like most political elections, it's a matter of the lesser of two evils. There is a good possibility that, once they surrender, the Americans will be killed by the Germans anyway. But, if they come out of the woods with their hands on top of their heads, the Americans have the hope of survival. They go with hope.
My brother returned from the Grand Rapids hospital on Saturday night, and he's currently staying at my parents' house. He is wearing a vest which monitors his heart rate and, if any problems arise, will administer shocks to restart his heart. He is also toting around a pump which supplies medication to combat his congestive heart failure. In other words, he's doing better, but he is greatly limited in what he can do.
I think my brother is having a difficult time with his situation. This is a guy who likes being alone. In fact, I would say that he needs to be alone. At the moment, this kind of independence is not really realistic for him. He's a very sick man, and he needs to be looked after. And he hates it.
In the little time that I've been able to be around him, he's been argumentative and bullying. He picks fights for the sake of picking fights. He's looking for excuses to run away, be by himself, even if he knows that it might kill him. It's a combination of two stages of grief--anger and bargaining, I think. Anger's winning at the moment.
My brother is a grown man. He's no baby. He can make his own choices and live with their consequences. A lot of people have gone to great lengths to keep him alive. Now it's up to him whether he wants to continue with his treatment properly. If he stays angry and belligerent, he will shorten his life even more, I think. Stress can kill healthy people, and my brother is not healthy.
I love him. I want him to take care of himself. But, sometimes, he's kind of an asshole. That's the way he's always been, and he's too old to change.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for possibility and choices.