Digressions of J. Charles
My Writing Mentor
By J. Charles Cheek
© June 2004
He was a buddy I never met. We were e-mail friends. After reading his novel, In the Shadow of Glory, I wrote him and told him that I enjoyed his book. It brought back a lot of memories. I told him I had written some notes many years ago in anticipation of writing a book, as he had done, based on my experiences during the Korean War. He became my mentor as I embarked on my novel. Periodically, I e-mailed my progress to him and he always sent back words of encouragement. Regrettably, he died unexpectedly on November 27, 2002 just a few days after I finished the first draft of my novel. The story below is one he posted on the Internet for all to read. I am proud to reproduce it here in his honor.
THE OLD MARINE ON 9/11
By Robert B. Campbell
The old Marine lay motionless on the narrow bed in a veteran’s hospital. Despite the oxygen flowing into his lungs from the plastic tubes inserted in his nostrils, his breathing was labored and painful to watch. His sunken eyes were open, fixed on the softly murmuring television set mounted high on the wall at the foot of his bed. He didn’t need to hear the sound; the captions scrolling across the bottom of the screen were more than adequate to explain the ghastly pictures flashing on the screen.
As he watched the horrifying scene playing over and over, tears slowly formed in his eyes then coursed down his hollow cheeks. His mind was in turmoil. This can’t be happening, he moaned to himself. No! Not here in America! He winced as the big jet flew into the second trade tower; this time the footage was shot from a different angle, showing a rearview of the plane as it plowed headlong into the majestic structure. His heart lurched violently in his chest, just as it did each time the grisly, mind-boggling scene was repeated on the screen. Now the station shifted back to live coverage. Both towers were burning fiercely, sending huge gouts of greasy black smoke into the blue September sky.
The minutes passed in agonizing slowness. Each scene on the television was like a hammer-blow to the old man’s soul, but he couldn’t tear his eyes from the screen, no matter how deep and painful the hurt. His almost hypnotic attention to the newscast was snapped when the young nurse quietly slipped into the room. Her normally sunny face was a pale and grim mask now, her eyes reddened from crying.
“I’ll just turn the television off now,” she said softly, reaching for the remote lying on his bedside table.
“Leave it alone,” he rasped. His voice, though weak, still had a tone of command that stopped her from turning off the set.
“I- I’m sorry. I thought it might be… uhh… too disturbing,” she murmured.
“I ain’t no baby,” he growled. “Now leave me alone.” With that, he turned his attention to the disaster playing out on the screen. He was no longer aware of the nurse who stood watching the television a moment before leaving the room as silently as she had entered.
Just then one of the burning towers gave up the ghost and began to collapse onto itself, blanketing the entire area in a boiling shroud of dust and smoke. To the old man, it almost seemed to be happening in slow motion. When the second tower collapsed not long after, he moaned and gasped for air. It took several long minutes before he could suck enough oxygen into his tortured lungs. Omigod! All those people. Dead… all dead! his voice shrieked in his mind.
Now he could no longer bear to watch the mesmerizing scene of chaos coming from the television. He moaned again and slowly rolled his head on the pillow until he was staring at the stained wall a scant few feet from his bedside. Though open, his eyes were painting nothing on the canvas of his mind. Ohh, God, he groaned inwardly. If only I could do something… anything.
The tragedy he had spent the morning watching had saddened him deeply, but it had also angered him as nothing had angered him before. The worst part was knowing that he was totally helpless to do anything about it. This was almost as unbearable for him as watching the terrorist attack unfold before his eyes.
“Jesus. Oh Jesus,” he muttered. “I’d give anything to be there now.” He didn’t know what he could do, but just being there ready and able to pitch in and lend a needed hand was something. It wasn’t as though he’d never been in the thick of things before, by God.
He became aware of the wall in front of him. It was bare except for the glassed shadowbox frame containing medals, ribbons, dogtags and other small bits of military memorabilia– mementos from his hitch in the Marine Corps a half century ago. He was so proud of them and of what they stood for. His wife had brought in the framed collection and hung it by his bedside, hoping the sight of it would cheer him a little.
The old man squinted his eyes, focusing them on the gaudy display of cloth and metal. Though his sight was a little dimmed by age and infirmity, he saw the ribbons and medals as bright and shiny as the day he was awarded them for his service in the Korean War. Yeah… he’d done his duty for his country back then, and by God he’d willingly do it again today if only he wasn’t bound to this damned bed.
The image of the two magnificent towers crashing to the ground played in his mind again. He felt his heart constrict as though some giant hand were squeezing it. Pain… piercing, agonizing pain shot through his entire body. He couldn’t breathe. Frantically, he tried to suck air into his starving lungs but to no avail. Just when he thought he couldn’t take it any longer, the pain suddenly lifted, and he could breathe easily now. He became aware that he was standing at the foot of the bed… looking at the old man lying there. He glanced up at the television set mindlessly playing away high on the wall, then returned his gaze to the man in the bed. There was a rictus of a smile on the wasted face, but life had mercifully departed from the old Marine.
The young Marine heaved a sigh of relief, then drew himself stiffly erect and saluted the old Marine in the bed. With a look of grim resolution on his lean face and with a firm step, he marched out the door. The old warrior was on his way to New York City to report for duty one last time.
E – N – D
 Mr. Cheek has written dozens of short stories under the general heading of Digressions of J. Charles. He is also the author of the novel Stay Safe, Buddy – A Story of Humor and Horror during the Korean War,300 pages, Publish America ISBN # 159286631X
Archive for category Inspirational
~ A Baby’s Hug ~
We were the only family with children in the restaurant.
I sat Erik in a high chair and noticed everyone was quietly sitting and talking. Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said, ‘Hi.’ He pounded his fat baby hands on the high chair tray. His eyes were crinkled in laughter and his mouth was bared in a toothless grin, as he wriggled and giggled with merriment.
I looked around and saw the source of his merriment.
It was a man whose pants were baggy with a zipper at half-mast and his toes poked out of would-be shoes.
His shirt was dirty and his hair was uncombed and unwashed.
His whiskers were too short to be called a beard and his nose was so varicose it looked like a road map.
We were too far from him to smell, but I was sure he smelled. His hands waved and flapped on loose wrists.
‘Hi there, baby; hi there, big boy. I see ya, buster,’ the man said to Erik.
My husband and I exchanged looks, ‘What do we do?’
Erik continued to laugh and answer, ‘Hi.’
Everyone in the restaurant noticed and looked at us and then at the man. The old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby.
Our meal came and the man began shouting from across the room, ‘Do ya patty cake? Do you know peek-a- boo? Hey, look, he knows peek- a-boo.’
Nobody thought the old man was cute. He was obviously drunk.
My husband and I were embarrassed.
We ate in silence; all except for Erik, who was running through his repertoire for the admiring skid-row bum, who in turn, reciprocated with his cute comments.
We finally got through the meal and headed for the door. My husband we nt to pay the check and told me to meet him in the parking lot.
The old man sat poised between me and the door.
‘Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik,’ I prayed. As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back trying to sidestep him and avoid any air he might be breathing. As I did, Erik leaned over my arm, reaching with both arms in a baby’s ‘pick-me-up’ position. Before I could stop him, Erik had propelled himself from my arms to the man.
Suddenly a very old smelly man and a very young baby consummated their love and kinship. Erik in an act of total trust, love, and submission laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed, and I saw t ears hover beneath his lashes.
His aged hands full of grime, pain, and hard labor, cradled my baby’s bottom and stroked his back. No two beings have ever loved so deeply for so short a time.
I stood awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms and his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. He said in a firm commanding voice,
‘You take care of this baby.’
Somehow I managed, ‘I will,’ from a throat that contained a stone.
He pried Erik from his chest, lovingly and longingly, as though he were in pain.
I received my baby, and the man said, ‘God bless you, ma’am, you’ve given me my Christmas gift.’
I said nothing more than a muttered thanks.
With Erik in my arms, I ran for the car. My husband was wondering why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly, and why I was saying, ‘My God, my God, forgive me.’
I had just witnessed Christ’s love shown through the innocence of a tiny child who saw no sin, who made no judgment; a child who saw a soul,
and a mother who saw a suit of clothes.
I was a Christian who was blind, holding a child who was not. I felt it was God asking, ‘Are you willing to share your son for a moment?’ He shared His for all eternity.
The ragged old man, unwittingly, had reminded me, to enter the Kingdom of God , we must become as little children.’
If this has blessed you, please bless others by sending it on. Sometimes, it takes a child to remind us of what is really important.
Remember who we are, where we came from and, most importantly, how we feel about others. The clothes on our back or the car that we drive or the house that we live in does not define us at all;
It is how we treat our fellow man that identifies who we are.
I stumbled across a site on the Internet today that you many find worthy of a visit. It is an excellent website with stories built upon the legendary “Kilroy was here” character. I got to the site while checking out a email story sent to me by my cyber friend and fellow ASA Veteran, Elston. The email story is about the hard-luck WWII destroyer named USS William D. Porter.
I don’t bookmark many sites but did this one as I want to visit it from time to time and read another few stories. Anyway, check it out and see if you agree: http://www.kilroywashere.org
When I was a kid, my mom liked to make breakfast food for dinner every now and then. And I remember one night in particular when she had made breakfast after a long, hard day at work.
On that evening so long ago, my mom placed a plate of eggs, sausage and extremely burned biscuits in front of my dad. I remember waiting to see if anyone noticed!
Yet all my dad did was reach for his biscuit, smile at my mom and ask me how my day was at school. I don’t remember what I told him that night, but I do remember watching him smear butter and jelly on that biscuit and eat every bite!
When I got up from the table that evening, I remember hearing my mom apologize to my dad for burning the biscuits.
And I’ll never forget what he said: “Honey, I love burned biscuits.”
Later that night, I went to kiss Daddy good night and I asked him if he really liked his biscuits burned. He wrapped me in his arms and said, “Your Mommy put in a hard day at work today and she’s real tired. And besides – a little burnt biscuit never hurt anyone!”
You know, life is full of imperfect things… and imperfect people. I’m not the best at hardly anything, and I forget birthdays and anniversaries just like everyone else. What I’ve learned over the years is that learning to accept each others faults – and choosing to celebrate each others differences – is one of the most important keys to creating a healthy, growing, and lasting relationship.
I usually enjoy reading an inspirational story, especially when the story is about a young man or woman having a successful recovery from a big mistake. Here is one I hope you will enjoy reading.
Posted by: “Dennis” mydogplato
Sun May 24, 2009 4:18 pm (PDT)Title of a tremendous poem by Sarah Teasdale as well as to a Ray Bradbury short story, Bradbury, who had an eye foor beauty and ambience. The sentiments of both quite appropriate to Memorial Day. Teasdale’s poem is here. Bradbury’s complete text is at the link following:
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pool singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
Bradbury’s short story has not one human being in the story. Nothing but Bill Gates automated house conceived at about the same time as Gates. Bradbury, ahead of his time…and Gates’ father. A story as moving as the poem, surprisingly, the whole short text is available below:
In the living room the voice-clock sang,
get up, seven o’clock!
clock ticked on, repeating and repeating its sounds into the emptiness.
eight pieces of perfectly browned toast, eight eggs sunnyside up, sixteen slices of bacon, two
coffees, and two cool glasses of milk.
“Today is August 4, 2026,” said a second voice from the kitchen ceiling, “in the city of
Allendale, California.” It repeated the date three times for memory’s sake. “Today is Mr.
Featherstone’s birthday. Today is the anniversary of Tilita’s marriage. Insurance is payable, as are
the water, gas, and light bills.”
Somewhere in the walls, relays clicked, memory tapes glided under electric eyes.
no doors slammed, no carpets took the soft tread of rubber heels. It was raining outside. The
weather box on the front door sang quietly: “Rain, rain, go away; rubbers, raincoats for today…”
And the rain tapped on the empty house, echoing.
Outside, the garage chimed and lifted its door to reveal the waiting car. After a long wait
the door swung down again.
At eight-thirty the eggs were shriveled and the toast was like stone. An aluminum wedge
scraped them into the sink, where hot water whirled them down a metal throat which digested and
flushed them away to the distant sea. The dirty dishes were dropped into a hot washer and
emerged twinkling dry.
, sang the clock,
cleaning animals, all rubber and metal. They thudded against chairs, whirling their mustached
runners, kneading the rug nap, sucking gently at hidden dust. Then, like mysterious invaders, they
popped into their burrows. Their pink electric eyes faded. The house was clean.
rubble and ashes. This was the one house left standing. At night the ruined city gave off a
radioactive glow which could be seen for miles.
. The sun came out from behind the rain. The house stood alone in a city of
with scatterings of brightness. The water pelted windowpanes, running down the charred west
side where the house had been burned evenly free of its white paint. The entire west face of the
house was black, save for five places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here,
as in a photograph, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood
in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung into the air; higher up, the image of a thrown ball,
and opposite him a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came down.
The five spots of paint—the man, the woman, the children, the ball—remained. The rest
was a thin charcoaled layer.
The gentle sprinkler rain filled the garden with falling light.
. The garden sprinklers whirled up in golden founts, filling the soft morning air
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1985), 166-172.
Just up the road from my home is a field, with two horses in it. From a distance, they look like every other horse. But if you stop your car, or are walking by, you will notice something quite amazing. Looking into the eyes of one horse, you will see that he is blind. His owner has chosen not to have him put down, but has made a good home for him. This alone is amazing.If you are nearby and listening, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to her halter is a small bell. It lets her blind friend know where she is, so he can follow her. As you stand and watch these two friends, you’ll see how she is always checking on him, and that he will listen for her bell and then slowly walk to where she is, trusting that she will not lead him astray. When she returns to the shelter of the barn each evening, she stops occasionally and looks back, making sure her friend isn’t too far behind to hear the bell.
Like the owners of the blind horse, do not throw others away just because they are not perfect or because they have problems or challenges. Life watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need. Sometimes we are the blind horse being guided by the little ringing bell of those who are helpers in our lives. Other times we are the guide horse, helping others see.
Good friends are like this ………. You don’t always see them, but you know they are always there.
Please listen for my bell and I’ll listen for yours.
Be kinder than necessary to everyone you meet because everyone is fighting some kind of battle.
I’ve learned…that life is like a roll of toilet paper, the closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.
I’ve learned…that under everyone’s hard shell is someone who wants to be appreciated and loved.
I’ve learned…that to ignore the facts does not change the facts.
I’ve learned…that the less time I have to work, the more things I get done.
1. Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height. Let the doctors worry about them. That is why you pay them.
2. Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down.
3. Keep learning. Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever. Never let the brain idle. “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” And the devil’s name is Alzheimer’s.
4. Enjoy the simple things.
5. Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath.
6. The tears happen. Endure, grieve, and move on. The only person, who is with us our entire life, is ourselves. Be ALIVE while you are alive.
7. Surround yourself with what you love, whether it’s family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever. Your home is your refuge.
8. Cherish your health: If it is good, preserve it. If it is unstable, improve it. If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.
9 Don’t take guilt trips. Take a trip to the mall, even to the next county; to a foreign country but NOT to where the guilt is.
10.Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity.
AND ALWAYS REMEMBER:
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
(I want to state at the getgo that I did not write this letter, nor is it aimed at anyone in particular that I know. It just seemed to me it was something to contemplate … John)
Bigotry is an ugly word, beyond prejudice and stereotype. So I want to make it clear that I have chosen it purposely, knowing that some people who read this message will be insulted. To be clear again: the insult is intentional.
Religious belief has emerged as a central issue in the campaign for president, though it has been just below the surface for many years in local, state and national contests. As the chair of The Interfaith Alliance and as a congregational rabbi in Virginia, I have a particular interest in this issue. It is right and proper to understand what role deeply-held convictions will play in the decision-making of a candidate for public office. A candidate who makes a point of his or her religious life should be expected to respond to questions about the intersection of public policy and the tenets of a tradition. Virginia’s current governor, a devout Catholic, addressed just such questions surrounding the state’s death penalty.
Likewise, integrity and credibility ought to be central to public service. While it is not always the case, in the race for president, there is ample evidence in each candidate’s record that the men and woman running for the highest office in the land have little to hide. Moreover, what little there may be to hide is almost certain to be ferreted out by responsible journalists and investigators. Recall the failed candidacy of Senator Gary Hart and the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew.
A phenomenon that violates both sensibilities while pretending to promote each one has emerged in a campaign that includes a group of candidates whose backgrounds are as diverse as America. Governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, Governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and Senator Barack Obama, who is part African and whose father and step-father were Muslim, have been subjected to wild speculations about the extreme nature of their true beliefs and accused publicly of concealing their genuine loyalties. Senator John McCain and Senator Hillary Clinton have been challenged on their “religious credentials.” The kernel of accuracy in these public broadsides does not excuse the exaggerations, fabrications and manipulations of the truth within them. They constitute hate crimes and would be treated as such if leveled against you and me in our private lives.
Of greatest concern to The Interfaith Alliance is the fertile soil these attacks have found around the country. From my own vantage point within the Jewish community, I have seen my rabbinic colleagues asking about documents circulated by groups claiming to be disinterested politically that call into question the RELIGIOUS beliefs and identities of the candidates, with the overt purpose of frightening Jewish voters. The candidates, Republican and Democratic alike, have been accused of supporting proselytization from the White House, polygamy, Wahabi-sponsored terrorism, and the eventual disenfranchisement of Jews from the benefits of United States citizenship.
Generally written in breathless style and peppered with quotations from people of renown taken out of context, these attacks are as objectionable to people of conscience as the notorious “Sturmer” of pre-WWII Germany, which caricatured the Jews and “proved” their untrustworthiness and corrosive influence on society.
If you write such material, you are a criminal. If you distribute such material, you are an accomplice. And if you believe such obvious tripe, you are a bigot.
Support the candidate of your choice. Vote as if your life depended on it. Donate time, money and advocacy to the causes you endorse. But the life of the body politic is a dirty enough business as it is. Do not sully it further with sin of bearing false witness.
And now that I have insulted some of you, allow me to insult the rest of you: broadsides like these are being distributed because of the presumption that they will have resonance. Too many in this country have been thoroughly effective at communicating our distrust of Mormons, or Islam or atheists or evangelical Christians, the list goes on. The result is that political operatives sense fertile ground for exploiting our prejudices to their advantage. I ask that if you see similar materials distributed in your communities, let The Interfaith Alliance know so that we are prepared to respond when necessary.
We have some deep self-reflection to undertake. And we have some changes in behavior to consider. As I think about the history of the Jewish community, I recall that we felt secure only when reassured by the first president of the United States that America offers “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Every faith community needs that reassurance. But the standard must be private as well as public.
Rabbi Jack Moline
Board Chair, The Interfaith Alliance