New York City
Sometimes fate gets to you through the most tortuous, winding roads, twirling and turning every little stone of certainty in its way, even at the deepest recesses of your soul.
Such an extraordinary event happened to me just the other day and, as Oscar Wilde used to say, "Fate never sends us Heralds. She is too wise or too cruel to do that". I prefer the first option, at least for the story I am about to tell you.
As I was wading through a pile of old papers and memorabilia (the very kind everybody has lying around in the attic, gathering dust and ready to start a fire), I came across an incredible finding.
You may not know it, probably because I never mention this to anybody, but I am of British heritage. My great-grandfather Jonathan Wolf was born in Sussex and, legend has it, was every bit the ultimate English gentleman. He also fought in World War I and was considered missing in action, during the hideous Battle of the Somme in 1916, never to return to his loving wife, Margaret.
What I came across was what I believe to be his last letter to Margaret, undated, sent from Somme.
It is eerie to think, even now, 80-some years later, that such an uplifting, joyous and optimistic letter was written by a soldier living under the most miserable, unwholesome circumstances that only a front in a bloodbath like that can provide.
The following are bits of this letter:
Do not fear for me, I am well and confident we will soon defeat the Germans, pushing them back to their homeland. Although the fighting has been fierce, we have fought as true Englishmen, standing our ground, against what seemed a hail of fire.
You never hear the bullets, just the loud blasting of shells and canons in the distance, and the general frenzied screaming of the charging troops. But, oddly my dear, these outbursts are rare and most of the time is spent waiting…
… Despite the miserable weather and the occasional fighting (after all this is a war), I have to tell you this has been an incredible experience. To be forced to share duties with the cream of the British men has produced a most remarkable bond, one that surpasses the realm of words.
In each moment of suffering or despair, one can see a spark of hope in every eye, wisely kept behind the notorious pride and unshakable pose of my countrymen. The rugged demeanors, fleeing more from the tears than from enemy fire, turn silently into resigned faces.
Every mind is tuned to the same key, one of contemplation of the meaning of all this, one of helping the wounded and mourning for friends lost to the outraged woes of Mars Himself. Yet there are gleeful, yes gleeful, moments, moments where one is caught wondering about the loved ones and how all we are going through will set them free.
Then one turns to one’s fellow soldier and sees the same intangible feeling mirrored in his weary eyes … For all its sorrows, war has its poignant statements.
I will soon return to you and little Tommy, a wiser, albeit a different man. It will most certainly be a very different world when this is over, so I hope to be fit to it and able to love you both even more.
My deepest love for you,
He never returned to great-grandma Maggie.
But I can see now what a remarkable man he was, wavering between an undaunted naiveté and a supreme wisdom. His simple yet powerful lines resonate in my mind as I write this, making me think how shallow our mundane worries are.
Even my legendary sarcasm cannot deflect this belittling feeling, nor prevent me from regretting my nagging about everyday setbacks. This man was a real warrior, plowing his way to the real Valhalla, the one of true knowledge.
Janice, dear, you among everyone I know will be touched by this little missive.
I am sure you will.