It’s Saturday evening. A log fire crackles in the grate. In another room, two of the kids are watching a DVD, both of them curled up on a settee, each wrapped in a rug. In another room, another son noodles on his guitar. The cats are snoozing on the stairs. I’m reading the Saturday papers. And then, without warning, I come on this:
Summer 2006: an injured soldier dictates a note to his wife, knowing he is not going to survive
To my most beautiful *******
I am sorry to say that I must break my promise and not come back to you. Jaz is writing this for me and he will hand it to you in person. We have only been married such a short time compared to most and I know you and the kids will miss me but please remember what I said about death. I will always be there with you, always looking after you and smiling at you always.
Tell the kids to look after you and each other and to be brave and that daddy loves them so very much and a HUGE kiss for them both.
To you my sweet lady I thank you for each moment we had together, the laughter we had and the love we have always shared. Remember me but don’t mourn me, celebrate what we had.
Got to go, I’ll be in the mountains where I belong.
Your man Billy
I’m choked by his quiet, matter-of-fact, dignity; by the gentleness with which he goes “into that good night”; by the way he doesn’t rage against the dying of the light.
These letters are extraordinary documents written by ordinary men faced with the terrible obligations that we — or at least our elected representatives — have placed upon them. And they make me feel ashamed for being, well, safe.