Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Night Watch




I’ve always been a sucker for a schmaltzy story and the following is no exception. I have read it before but I came across it again recently with a twist ending added. For me, at least, that took away the meaning and poignancy of the story and its simple and moving message. Snopes.com describes the short story as being of indeterminate origin and as having been around since the 1990’s. Here it is, without further comment and without the added ending. 

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“A nurse took the tired, anxious serviceman to the bedside. “Your son is here,” she said to the old man. She had to repeat the words several times before the patient’s eyes opened. 

Heavily sedated because of the pain of his heart attack, he dimly saw the young uniformed Marine standing outside the oxygen tent. He reached out his hand. The Marine wrapped his toughened fingers around the old man’s limp ones, squeezing a message of love and encouragement. 

The nurse brought a chair so that the Marine could sit beside the bed. All through the night the young Marine sat there in the poorly lighted ward, holding the old man’s hand and offering him words of love and strength. Occasionally, the nurse suggested that the Marine move away and rest awhile. He refused.

Whenever the nurse came into the ward, the Marine was oblivious of her and of the night noises of the hospital – the clanking of the oxygen tank, the laughter of the night staff members exchanging greetings, the cries and moans of the other patients. Now and then she heard him say a few gentle words. The dying man said nothing, only held tightly to his son all through the night. 

Along towards dawn, the old man died. The Marine released the now lifeless hand that he had been holding and went to tell the nurse. While she did what she had to do, he waited. Finally, she returned. She started to offer words of sympathy, but the Marine interrupted her. “Who was that man?” he asked. The nurse was startled, “He was your father,” she answered. “No, he wasn’t,” the Marine replied. “I never saw him before in my life.” The nurse replied in shock. “Then why didn’t you say something when I took you to him?” The Marine said “I knew right away there had been a mistake, but I also knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn’t here. When I realised that he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, knowing how much he needed me, I stayed.” 




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