Though the photo might have been a bit blurry and taken with the most inexpert of hands, it perennially resided in Henry’s pocket, decades later, his own private Mona Lisa. In quiet moments, he studiously uprooted the snapshot from its cocoon, fingering the edges of the one true memory of his life. He saw the haunting beauty of the faintest smile in the picture in his hand and knew that the universe, though for a fleeting moment, had chosen to give him a precious and transitory gift.
His friend Joseph had come by to pick him up before the train came to gather young men. Joseph had a camera and seldom needed an excuse to use it. Henry and Joesph laughed as they drove, wondering at the uncertain adventure of their long lives stretched before them. They stopped near the house Henry lived in with his grandmother for 8 years. The love of Henry’s life wiped away the tears gathering in her hazel eyes and stood lonesomely by the roadside, her presence unexpected and a steely finger into his heart. Even though they spoke their goodbyes the night before, Sally was there, waiting, her hands restless and her eyes reddened from the shock of impending separation. Surprised by the sudden shift from jovial to melancholy, Joseph fumbled and took the cherished picture before Henry could join Sally for the picture. Instead of joining her for another snapshot, Henry embraced her as she leaned toward him, sobbing. They drove as slowly as the car would allow, marking the sun’s arc across the afternoon sky, telling shared stories of their times together. They all felt their childhoods melt away as they drove toward the station.
This picture, it was enough to replenish him, always, no matter how difficult the day. Jacob sent it soon after Henry entered boot camp. Attached was a note: “We’re waiting.” That day at Salerno, screaming and deafened by the inhumanity of his surroundings, the foggy minute early in November, decades ago, when the word “cancer” pierced his heart, even the afternoon 17 years ago, when the last connection to his biological family passed away – all of these were momentarily forgotten with a glance at his most prized possession.
Henry barely survived the river at Salerno, his vision of Italy scarred by war. He came home, hobbling and injured, to find his Sally waiting for him. They were married the day he arrived. Joseph stood by him and held him upright as the Presbyterian minister shouted his invocations. Henry and Sally loved like no other existed. Sally died in her sleep in early 1944 of an infection, one which came suddenly and with finality. They had shared only 122 days together as man and wife. No matter how sweet the days would be ahead of him, Henry knew that his life would be a black-and-white rainbow without her.
He returned to the war, voluntarily, and went back into the world to find something to stuff inside the void of his heart. Henry lived to be 96 years old, each day in recognition that he had already experienced the best of life. He laughed easily, cried deeply, and hugged with the ferocity of those accustomed to loss. Henry taught me all the important lessons in life, each lesson ribboned with the reminder that pain comes to those who have chosen to live a full life.
Pressed inside his favorite book of hand-written words of wisdom, Henry’s treasured picture came to me, its edges defying time and submission to decay. I wept, knowing that Henry’s fingers had caressed this last reminder of his sweet Sally countless times, each a silent prayer of thanks and loss.
When I decided to copy it and frame it for my own wall, I turned it over and found these words inscribed by Henry:
“May this be enough, always,” he had written.
May you find your ‘enough,’ and may it be sufficient for you, always.