My grandfather was one of my heroes. We did not see eye to eye politically (most of the time), but he was indisputably a great man. Brigadier general in the army when he retired in the early 1970s. But retirement slowed him down but nuthin'. He stayed busy, involving himself in Afghanistan and Pakistan from that point through the late 1980s...literally, sometimes. I think he spent more time abroad than he did stateside in the '80s. His military expertise was boundless. He co-penned a book back in the day called Nuclear Tactics, which amusingly enough, is actually available still. He became a political consultant, spending more time in DC than in his home in Southern Pines, NC. I found it amusing that he chose to live right next door to Pinehurst, a big golf (read: retirement sport) resort town in the nation, until I realized it was also right next door to Fort Bragg, a big army base. Grandpa never wanted to "retire." He stayed as busy as he could, and his energy seemed limitless.
But he and his wife decided to move back to Denver years ago, so she could be near her favorite daughter (my mom). He went into it, knowing that he would no longer be around what sustained him so powerfully. But he figured that Grandma had suffered his travels, being the equivalent of a single mom, then a solitary wife for so long, that he should do what she wanted now.
And cut off from his military links, he began to wither. For such a great man, having lived through three wars and being so successful, his death was sadly unworthy of his life; he slowly wasted away, turning despondent and suicidal before our eyes, until he finally died of natural causes one morning in a nursing home in his wife's arms. He had a proper military funeral back at Fort Bragg, but one of the saddest things I ever saw was his casket being driven away in a small open-framed pickup truck, bouncing around and not tied down. It was so undignified, so unworthy of him.
One of the most profound things he taught me was his view of being a man, based on Shakespeare's famous soliloquy, "All the world's a stage." There were seven stages, Shakespeare wrote, to being a full man: the infant, the schoolboy, the lover, the soldier, the justice, the pantaloon, and finally, the old, doddering man. So drawn into this view, my grandfather was, that he took a picture of a stained glass representation of this, had it framed, and gave it to me as a present. I thought it was nice at the time, and it's packed away in our voluminous basement full of crap right now, but the more I think of it, the more I believe it's true.
What makes me think this? The soldier. I have fulfilled every role up to this point just fine (currently acting as the justice, so to speak), and I have no question of what lies ahead of me. Every role except for the soldier: "jealous in honor, sudden, and quick in quarrel/Seeking the bubble reputation/Even in the cannon's mouth." I never was a soldier, literal or figurative. I recently wrote about the symbolic solider (or as I put it at the time, warrior) I left abandoned on the side of the road in the wilderness, in his armor and brandishing his sword, waiting for his time to come. I picture him kicking the gravel, walking around, waiting as if for Godot. And I feel a great sense of guilt, of abdicating responsibility to myself. I feel like I should somehow make it up to him. I feel very much an incomplete man without him.
It makes me wonder if it's not too late to rectify this, to somehow turn back and channel that soldier energy somehow. I've done some of it, getting into weightlifting and such over the past few years, and people have noticed that I've gotten beefier, but to what end? Vanity? I think my newfound strength should be put to good use somehow...but how?