Virginia, you may not want to read this. It will make you cry.
I'm going to put in a plug here for "The Writer's Almanac", published by Garrison Keillor. The Writer's Almanac comes to my mailbox daily with a poem and then tidbits and biographies about authors who had significant events on this day in history. Yesterday, the significant event was that Mark Twain left on his cruise from which he wrote the travelogue "The Innocents Abroad". I must go get this book...
Today's poem was written by a man who, to my knowledge had only one poem to his name: John Gillespie Magee, Jr. He was a pilot in WWII and flew with the Royal Canadian Air Force, before the US entered the war. Today is his birthday. Like me, you have probably heard this poem before, but today, it really moved me. I'll tell you why after you read it.
High Flight (an Airman's Ecstasy) by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
My grandfather-in-law is an aviator. He flew at around the same time as Magee, fighting in WWII and then again in Korea. After he retired from the Army Air Corps, he continued to teach in his flight school in Texas. One of his students was my brother who tells me that Grandpa has nerves of steel. Yep, I'll bet he does.
This brave man has more decorations than you could shake a stick at, including several Purple Hearts and at least one Bronze Star. In WWII, he was shot down in enemy territory and crawled out on his belly with a broken jaw, after watching his friend be killed. And yet, he is good hearted, humble and kind. His love for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren so very great. It even extends to me, outsider that I am, and I am doted upon.
But now, he suffers from Alzheimer's and we are watching this fantastic man slip away. But he is not slipping away into nothing. He is still the kind hearted, humble, loving grandfather I have always known him to be. True, he no longer teaches flight. True, he needs a little more help, but would I give back even one second of this time we still have with him? No. Do my children benefit for having him in their lives even in a diminished capacity? Yes. I do not believe that any time that we have left with this great man is a waste in any way. I am so honored to know him one of our great American Heores and to be loved as one of his children.
And when he does finally pass on from us, though right now he cannot take flight, I know that he will be going to touch the face of God once again.