Saturday, June 30, 2012

Half a league, half a league

When I woke up this morning, those words were galloping through my brain. I’ve been trying to finish a couple of poems that feature horses, so there was at least a seed of logic to the voice’s appearance. Then, over coffee, I found myself thinking about today’s date, so before long the phrase started translating itself into ‘half a year, half a year…’

Still, I knew I needed to be sure about the ‘half a league’ line, so I Googled it. Ah yes, of course – “Charge of the Light Brigade”. A further click, this time on Wikipedia, informed me that years after “Charge” had been written, Kipling wrote a poem that honoured the survivors of that dreadful encounter.

Yesterday, I met another survivor. No one from the Light Brigade, to be sure, but a man who’d been a POW in Asia during WWII.

It was one of those bump-into-a-person things, something I was led to on the strength of his personalized license plate. He was kind enough to not seem to mind talking with a stranger, a woman in a parking lot asking about the significance of the letters on his bumper.

I learned that he’s 92 (and still an imposing six feet – maybe more) but that when he’d been released from the camp he’d weighed only 68 pounds. Skeletal. He also told me that all the survivors had been told they’d never live past 50, that their bodies had been too damaged by the experience. Yet here he is, nearly twice times 50. So much for what ‘they’ know.

Kids are all warned these days about speaking with strangers. Even adults aren’t always responsive to a friendly hello. Maybe we’d all feel more secure – even happier – if we’d chance the occasional chat with a stranger. You might find your life a little richer for having taken the risk.

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