He is 6’3″ tall, a 6th degree black belt in karate, 62 years old and wears his white hair long and shaggy. His body is veiled in Marine Corp tattoos. Two teardrop tats loom out under his right eye. He hunches his shoulders. Sometimes they look almost humped. He receives a check every month from the Vets Admin — he is on 40% disability because as he once said, “I got blown up.”
Once while getting dressed in the locker room, I asked him what he was going to do with his first couple of months of retirement. Without thinking, without hesitating, he said, “I want to read in hospitals to kids with cancer.” For three or four minutes he talked straight through.
He said that his mother is in Heaven and that he wants to see her again and after what he did in Vietnam, he isn’t sure that he will make it. He said, “I didn’t rape anyone or murder anyone. The guys I killed had it coming.” But he spoke of the “horrors in his head”, that is how he phrased it — images of his dead friends that he cannot erase, images of the killing he had to do.
He said that his mother had died of cancer and his sister and that he had beaten prostate cancer and that he wanted to “give something back.”
“Those little kids, most of them aren’t going to make it, and I have Beetle Bailey and Sad Sack and Batman comic books.” He said all this with the most earnest conviction, a humble man by experience and perhaps by nature.
When he finished, I felt as if I had been visited by the presence of an absolute goodness — for that moment, in a smelly locker room, something eternal flickered and rose up and evaporated. I felt it. For the second time in my life, I felt it.
The last time I saw him, 6 months ago now, he was pushing up 240 pounds in a bench press. Straining, he made the last rep, locked the bar and sat up. We smiled, shook hands, exchanged bits of news and went back to our workouts.
I think of him often, especially when I am convinced for the fifth or sixth time in a month that all of creation is going to Hell. The Marine could be one of Abraham’s ten, a man whose goodness might save the world.