The two old men sat on the edge of the cliff, watching the Pacific Ocean slap the breaker rocks below. The sun was in the midst of its daily death throes, setting gently into the horizon, lancing the clouds with a final burst of vivid reds and oranges before resting.
It’s Sunday, and the men had been strolling the weathered coast of Oregon; chatting, debating, reasoning. A shared ritual of old friends for more than fifty years. They were scholars of life. They spoke the philosophy of age and experience, the poetry of pain, the wisdom of loss. They knew each other’s stories by heart and shared an empathy that can only exist after decades of friendship. As children they had played together, stoning the sky with baseballs and footballs, plundering the unexplored wilderness that split their homes from the freeways, and shared too many near misses to count. Their youth was scattered from bullies to bull dogs, from recess to excess.
And somehow they grew to be young men, arriving just in time for war. Countries always send their young to war.
But today they sat in silence, each one in quiet reflection of times resigned to memories.
Maybe it was the sudden gust of cool wind that awoke the older of the two and moved him to speak. “I can’t complain,” he said almost silently, “I have done five of the six things every man should do with his life. I have seen the world, learned of life, fallen in love and had my heart broken.” He paused, lowered his head as tears came to his eyes. Taking in a deep breath he clenched his fists, and spoke in the broken tones of grief and rage, “We fought in that crappie war.” He continued slowly, almost forcing the words from his lips, “That was somethin’….yes siree… they had no right to make us to do that, ya’ know. Fight in that fuckin’ war.” He paused for a moment, remembering every detail of his days as a soldier. “Those were the hardest days and longest nights of my life. But, I guess you already knew that.”
The other man lowered his head, joining with his own memories of that time. After a moment the oldest man continued, ” I have done more than a man should be allowed to do and yet, well, it seems like I missed somethin’. Like going into a room, then forgetting why you went there, ya know?”
The second man nodded his head. “Yeah, I know how you feel. Well, I have my Ellan, the kids, and the grandchildren. I guess I did what I was put here to do. But I have to agree; it all seems so little. I had so much time…and yet…it seems …I don’t know…so unfinished. It’s like something was left undone. But I’ll be damned if I can figure what.”
After a time, the old men got up, dusted their pants and began the journey back home. If they didn’t leave now they would never beat the dusk and darkness would overtake them; the path was treacherous enough in daylight. So, as they quietly walked, each man pondered on what had been left undone. They followed the dirt path that edged the cliff, that passed a simple church… a place that neither man had ever given a moment’s thought to.