A Song For Eli
Eli considered his next move. Grandpa was good at chess, and they had been playing ever since Eli was eight. It was Grandpa who taught him the game,
on his birthday seven years ago, almost to the day. They knew each other well, and could largely anticipate how each other would react in certain
Grandpa's fianchetto opening would be tough to crack. He knew Grandpa would castle shortly - he always did. Grandpa was a defender, lurking in wait
until Eli screwed up somehow, then he would strike and the axe would inevitably fall. To describe Eli's wins as "seldom" was being generous. But
his grandfather had abundant stories to pass the time, and Eli always enjoyed Grandpa's stories.
His head hurt today and he was having trouble concentrating.
"Your head's bothering you today, isn't it, Eli?"
"Yeah, it really hurts," he said, honestly. "I'm OK, though."
"Good, I wouldn't want to have an unfair advantage. Your move," he said with a smile.
Eli studied the board and tried to guess what his grandfather would do next, but his heart just wasn't in it today. The medication the doctor had
prescribed for his headaches didn't seem to help today.
"Grandpa, can I ask you a question?"
"'Course, Eli, always," he said.
"What did you get your medals for?"
Grandpa arched an eyebrow at Eli. "You haven't asked about them in a long time. What's got you thinking about war medals?"
Eli didn't answer right away, but instead fidgeted with a piece he had captured.
"I guess, I just wonder what I can possibly accomplish in my life. You're a war hero, and a fireman to boot. And don't tell me you're not a
hero, Grandpa, I saw the Mayoral Medal of Honor, too. The article says you saved six people that night."
"Son," his grandfather said, leaning forward a bit, "just because someone gets a medal doesn't mean they are a hero, or even that they earned
"Did you earn yours?"
"By some standards, I suppose I did, sure. But Eli, it's just a piece of metal someone polished and engraved a bit. That medal doesn't talk about
the people I couldn't save. Don't let someone else's idea of glory and honor define yours."
Eli thought for a second. "But I'm not good at anything, Grandpa."
"Who told you that?"
"No one," Eli said defensively. "It's the truth."
"You know I don't let you win at chess, right? I have to try to beat you. So you're good at that," Grandpa offered.
Eli looked at his grandfather wryly. Just then his head throbbed, and he massaged his temple a bit.
"Not good enough, huh? Well, how about this, do you remember that mother who lost her child? Turned out they lived only a few blocks from you?"
"Yeah, that was what, two years ago?"
"I think so. You made a card for her on the computer, and you & I brought it over to her. Did you see the smile on her face? It wasn't there
long, but she smiled. You brought a smile to a woman with a broken heart, son. That's something, and I'll bet you a chocolate malt she remembers
it even today."
"Yeah, but anybody can do what I did, Grandpa," Eli said.
"How about that boy with cancer you visited in the hospital? You remember bringing Buck to the hospital, and you brought him a Lego set too. That
kid - what was his name, Danny? He smiled the whole time you were there. You and your dog brought joy to a really sick little boy, Eli. Not
everyone could have done that, or would have."
Eli remembered that day. Danny had rare form of leukemia. He died not long after Eli had visited him. "It didn't save his life, though, did it,
Grandpa? I mean, he still died."
"Son, it's not how many days you have, it's what you do with them. Look, we all die. We are all headed toward that moment, Eli, every one of us.
Your journey to the afterlife doesn't begin when you die. It starts the day you're born. And whether you have seven years like Danny, or seventy
like me, well, we all face it in the end."
"Do you believe in angels, Grandpa?"
"Of course, why?"
"Danny told me he saw angels once, two of them. He had a nightmare one night, and when he woke up there were two angels in his room, watching him.
Watching over him, is what he said."
"Well, I believe him, do you?"
"Yeah, I think I do. Do you think we turn into angels when we die?"
Grandpa chuckled. "Your grandmother had that idea. I disagree. I think we become...well, something else. Something beyond words." He smiled
warmly at Eli, a wistful twinkle in his blue eyes.
Eli's head throbbed again, and he groaned.
"You ok, son?"
"It's getting worse today, Grandpa. Hurts bad," Eli said softly. The pain was making his vision blur just a bit. "Will you tell me about when
you saved those kids from the housefire, Grandpa?"
"Maybe you should rest, Eli."
"Well, that's an old story. How about you
about that girl you wrote to in South Africa. You remember the one with that
really rare cancer?"
"Yeah, she had multiple myeloma. She was really a sweet girl, I wish I could have met her before she died. She told me her scans showed over a
hundred tumors...do we have to talk about that?"
"No, 'course not. Tell me what you're learning on the piano, then."
"Oh, well, I've been working on one of Clementi's Sonatinas
. And a piece by Bach adapted for piano. It's hard though 'cause it was
originally written for organ, so some of it is very difficult. I was working on another transcription of one of George Winston's pieces, too - his
arrangement of The Holly And the Ivy
. I was hoping to play it for everyone at Christmas."