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March 7th, 2021
Lucilius held the hand until it grew cold. He closed his eyes, his mind awash in memory, each coming to him as though gently touched and treasured as though the mere hope might keep them from fading in the scrapbook of his mind. Eventually, he put the cold hand down, leaned over and kissed the forehead, and whispered,
“Goodbye old friend.”
He left the room and the nurse noticed from looking at a clipboard. A flat and loving smile pressed to her face, and Lucilius gently nodded. Her eyes closed a moment and her smile deepened, seeing Lucilius’ care.
He was adrift in the odd sensation as he wandered randomly the halls, paying no attention to direction. Eventually he found himself sitting, looking out high windows at the world out there, far away, it’s little goings like some mute and microscopic movie.
The squeak of a wheelchair rolled near and the viced squeal of a breaks clamped on.
“I’ll be back in a bit, ok honey?” The nurse whispered.
Lucilius looked over to see a boy, bald and frail, small in the wheelchair, his tired skinny arms propped up on the rests. His face was blank, but it was something beyond boredom, something resigned and inevitable.
The two stared steady out the window, quiet until the boy spoke.
“Coming or going?”
Lucilius slowly looked over, unsure if the boy was talking to him, but there was no one else within earshot.
“What do you mean?”
The boy looked back at him. “Who you’re here for. They’re either coming or going. I mean, you’re a civi.”
“Civi?” Lucilius queried.
The boy pinched his hospital gown and then raised the hand with the I.V. taped in. “You don’t have a combat uniform. You’re in civies, obviously you’re a civilian.”
Lucilius smiled. He nodded. “Dead give-away.”
“So?” The boy continued, “are you waiting for someone who is coming or going?”
Lucilius breathed deeply and sighed. “Not waiting on anything now.”
The boy thought for a moment about the unusual response and then pieced it together. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
The two shared a moment in silence before the boy picked up the thought again. “Did you have to wait long?”
Lucilius gave him a bit of a puzzled look. “I wasn’t really waiting.”
The boy looked instantly skeptical. “Everyone is waiting here. That’s all anyone does in this place. They even have a room named for it.”
Lucilius laughed. “You have a point.”
The two returned to their peaceful movie of the grey scene outside and Lucilius mulled over the idea. His eyebrows raised in realization. “You know, you might be more right than you realize.”
The boy wore a satisfied and curious look as he turned back to Lucilius. “…go on…..” He said rather satisfied with himself.
Lucilius turned to look at the boy again. “If you’re in a combat uniform you’re waiting to get out.”
“-or the other thing,” the boy interrupted with.
Lucilius nodded in slow respect. “..or that.” He let the gravity of the idea sink in before he continued. “But when you get out you’re gonna start waiting all over again, just like all the other kids.”
Lucilius feigned as though he were finished speaking and turned his attention back to the grey and now rainy movie, as though he were satisfied with the end now passed.
“What do you mean?” the boy asked, now with real curiosity infused with confusion and urgency.
“Kids are all waiting for the same thing,” Lucilius said, his eyes locked on the distant sight of a tanker slowly drawing anchor in the harbour far out in the view.
The boy carefully felt out the next moment, sensitive to the possibility of ruining a continuation by saying something, but asked “what are they waiting for?”
Lucilius had the boy’s attention and he cherished an invisible smile. Casually he looked again and held the boy’s gaze again.
“Kids are all waiting to be grown ups, because they think things’ll be different then. That’s when they’ll really be able to doooo something.”
The boy grew more interested, his curiosity tempered by skepticism.
“And you know what adults do?” Lucilius asked.
The boy slowly shook his head, wondering where this would go.
“They wait too.”
“For what?” The boy blurted.
Lucilius shrugged. “For the weekend, for five p.m. when they get to leave work. For the vacation next month, for test results they’re nervous about, and eventually, they find they’re waiting for retirement. And then, when an adult finally retires.” Lucilius leaned toward the boy, drawing out the silent break in the story of his point. “They realize they never really even knew what they were waiting for.”
He leaned back, pleased with his molding of the situation, the particular flavor of attention the boy now had.
“And then what?” The boy asked.
Lucilius shrugged, as though no answer now even mattered. “Seeing nothing else, they wait for the next obvious thing.”
“And what’s that?”
Lucilius softly and seriously looked at the boy. “They wait for the end.”
The boy was suspended in a sense of disappointment. “That’s it?”
Half a smile raised on Lucilius’ face. “A mistake made in youth has a decent chance of living a lifetime.”
The boy’s colourless brow creased, hooked with the hint. “What’s the mistake?”
Lucilius deflected. “I will remember this day forever,” he said slowly, magnificently. “Not because it’s sad, but because I’m honored. Honored because this person wanted to spend those last moments with me.” He leaned closer to the boy. “Wow,” he said. “How amazing is that?”
“It’s sad,” the boy responded. But Lucilius shook his head.
“It’s only sad because of all the good times we had together, so sadness is really an expression of happiness. If we didn’t have those good times together, then I’d feel nothing.”
The boy’s eyes flicked away in thought, but he returned fast. “Wait, so what’s the mistake?”
“The mistake,” Lucilius said, “is about what we are all waiting for.”
“What is it?”
“Now,” Lucilius said.
“Now?” The boy said, confused and incredulous.
Lucilius nodded. He waved his hand out at the rest of the world. “So few ever realize it. They touch it, and taste it every once in a while, when life is intense, usually with happiness or pleasure, but they miss the meaning. They fail to realize that what those experiences are doing is just brining them into the here and now. They experience an immediacy that is truly amazing, but they think it has to do with that specific experience so then they start chasing it, trying to recreate it with weekends and vacations and what not, but the funny thing is that they’re always waiting for something that’s always with them.”
“The moment,” the boy said in a quiet, hushed voice. “How do I do it? How do I stop waiting for now.”
Lucilius smiled. “It’s easy. All those thoughts you’re having?” He shook his head. “Just let them go. All your worries, your thoughts about the future, and the past, and even your thoughts about right now. Just let them go. Even what you’re experiencing right now. The fact that you’re listening to my voice and understanding what I’m saying and looking at me, and this hospital room and the grey view out the window. Just let everything go, and what you’ll find left over is what you’ve been waiting for.”
The boy held Lucilius’ gaze for a moment, and then, slowly, the boy’s face filled with a smile.
donating = loving
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