I Dare Say – AWOL (5-2-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (May 2, 1944)



By Florence Fisher Parry

No, I haven’t been sick. I haven’t been away. I haven’t (I hope) been fired. I haven’t stopped writing a column.

I played hooky. I never did such a thing before, not even at school. Don’t ask me how it happened.

I got up one morning and sat down to write this column, and it just wouldn’t write. I couldn’t believe it at first. I’d been so used to turning it on just like a spigot and it never failed before, never mind what. Fever and chills; death and birth; sorrow and joy. It had always got itself written somehow, sometimes almost as though it were proceeding without me, itself taking charge.

But that morning it was different. So, I called up The Press and I said: “I can’t write. I can’t send in a column. I want a week off.”

They said: “OK, go ahead and forget it.” For they knew that the heart of me and the mind of me were so full that there wasn’t room for anything but the magic of reunion. Reunion with my son.

Reunion! What Webster could supply the meaning it has for us today? This new, dazzling, heart shaking meaning that this war has given it! All over the earth – in palaces, in huts, in roaring cities, on lonely plains – the meaning of that word is being made clear. Reunion of wives with their husbands, of sons with their mothers and fathers and families; of friends, of lovers.

Strange pang

Reunion on a vaster scale than human history has ever before known. Reunion made all the more exquisite because it could so easily not have been; yet a reunion which, for all its sweetness, carried with it a strange new pang. For even in the instant of that first sweet impact, you feel the need to hush and hide your joy, lest those around you, already bereft, feel the thrust of the cruel contrast between your reunion and their bitter denial.

For see! Even as his arms encircle you there at the station in that first strong embrace, beside you there stand, swaying, two lovers about to be torn apart, perhaps forever. For see! As you alight from the car and throw open the doors in loud welcome, your voice suddenly hushes, for you see in a neighbor’s window a gold star to remind you that happiness such as yours must walk softly, softly and humbly, all its days.

Now it seems to me that I know, as though for the first time, the sweet importance of having a family; of being able to draw, from far and near, those of your own blood to share in the reunion. Oh, what is so exciting as a meeting of the clan, drawn together by a strong bond of blood! Oh, what is grander than to bring out the table leaves and draw the table longer and longer and still longer, to the furthermost walls of the dining room! Oh, what music to match the loud intermingling of family voices all speaking at once, of family laughter and chatter!

Turn on the lights in every room! Bring out all the summer blankets! Count the napkins! Count the places! Thirteen at the table? No matter. We are past superstitions. How little they counted; how vain and false all our dreads and dreams!

He is here. He is whole. He is safe. He is well. What was too good to be true is true. What could not be, is. And shall we torment ourselves with morbid, unhealthy thoughts? Shall we question our right to be happy?

Oh, surely once to every human being comes his moment, his right, to be happy. Oh, surely there is no one who would begrudge that sweet capsule!

Red letter day

The sun shines bright upon me today. Never mind what tomorrow may bring. Yesterday has been forgotten and tomorrow is so very far away.

There have been times in my own life when, bereft and agonized, I have looked upon the loud, glad joy of others with morbid bitterness. And today, even as I celebrate this dear reunion, I know that there must be surround me, heartbroken ones to whim my own good fortune must seem almost a bold effrontery, so sharp a contrast is it from their own dark despair.

Oh, let us somehow learn to accept with better grace the vagaries of this life. My day of rejoicing may be your day of sorrow. Your day of celebration may be my own Calvary. To each one, in due time, comes his portion of pain and his brief drop of reward.

Each human life possesses its own calendar, marked with its own red letter days, and each is different. Yet in the aggregate they all show a curiously equal number of red letter days, whether they fall in spring or autumn, summer or winter, this year or the next.

My red letter day is now. Tomorrow may be yours. And let me not forget, when mine is over, that I have had it, that it is imperishable, forever fixed like a new star in its own constellation.