By Tom Holmes
Last Wednesday Pastor Mitty woke up thinking about his neighbor. Michael had called the night before to tell his friend that the urologist was concerned enough about his symptoms to order more tests. More tests, to Mitty, meant that Michael had prostate cancer, and he was depressed because there wasn't a thing he could do to fix the situation.
On top of that the thunder, lightning and heavy rain made walking to the Main Street Café out of the question. Mitty would have preferred the solitude of walking. It would give him some time to digest what was happening to his friend. In fact, he didn't even feel like going to the weekly men's breakfast which he had started ten years ago.
But Pastor Walt responded to duty, sprinted through the downpour to his garage and drove his 1999 Corolla to the Main Street Café.
"Morning Rev." Alice greeted Mitty as he shook the rain off his coat. "Your brain trust is waiting for you."
Eric, Ash and Dominique were huddled around the copy of the Trib Ash had brought along.
"What's got your attention?" asked Mitty as he sat down next to Eric.
"North Korea," Ash replied before taking a sip of coffee.
"If you ask me, that Kim Jong-un is a nutcase," said Dominique. "He's a little kid who's in way over his and is trying to convince himself and the world that he's a competent leader with all this saber rattling."
"So you don't take him seriously?" asked Mitty.
"I guess not," admitted the banker in a pin striped suit. "One guy quoted in this Trib article said that this is what Kim's dad would do—be provocative, get everyone upset and then get some of the aid he wanted from donor nations."
"Ash, you fought in Korea," said Eric. "What do you think?"
Ash stared out the window for half a minute. The three other men waited patiently, understanding that this was a sensitive topic for their friend.
"I still have nightmares about Korea," Ash responded after taking a deep breath, "although not nearly as often as when I returned." He paused, stirring his coffee. "Combat there was hell. I really feel for those kids returning from Iraq with PTSD. In my day we called it battle fatigue or something like that. A week of leave in Hawaii and you were supposed to be ready to go back into action."
Ash took a long drink of his by now lukewarm coffee. "I'm sorry, Eric. I didn't answer your question about Kim. I just can't seem to separate the terror of my experience in Korea from what's happening there now."
"Why the long faces and silence?" asked Alice as she refilled cups with Superior coffee and got Ash a new cup. "You don't look like you're solving any of the world's problems today."
"No, not today," said Dominique letting their server's sarcasm pass by.
Mitty finally broke the silence. "I'm worried about Michael."
"What's up," asked Eric.
"He's having tests today for prostate cancer."
"The tests might come out negative," said the man in the flannel shirt who was the picture of health.
"I know." It was Mitty's turn to stir his coffee. "I guess my time with Herman—you know, watching him die during those four years I was with him in Manitowoc—makes it hard for me to be objective."
The group welcomed Alice's approach with their breakfasts expertly balanced on her left arm. Dominique volunteered to say the blessing and the four men used the excuse of eating to get lost in their own thoughts.
Dominique had grown up in the Robert Taylor projects along the Dan Ryan and had gone through his own kind of combat before escaping to the western suburbs. Eric was struggling with how to acknowledge his newly discovered sexual orientation and remain faithful to his wedding vows and his kids.
As much as they suspected that Kim Jong-un was a blowhard and not to be taken
seriously. . .still each of them had come from their own place of heartache and realized that people don't always live happily ever after, that North Korea's dictator might just start another war..
"I'll pray for Michael," said Ash as the four men exited the Main Café. "Me too," said Ash and Eric as they waved goodbye. "See you Sunday."
Pastor Walt thought about Ash's offer to pray for Michael as he drove home. Even though they were a church group, they didn't use religious language a whole lot. Usually they would be content with the healing effect of their fellowship. He unlocked the church door, entered the pastor's office, sat down at his desk and looked at his calendar. It was going to be a busy day, but he knew what he needed to do first.
Overwhelmed with a sense that there were so many problems he couldn't fix, he decided there was one thing he could do. He picked up the phone. "Hi Susan. It's Walt. I got to thinking. It's been seven months since Herman died and I just want to know how you're doing and to let you know that I'm thinking about. . .I mean that I'm praying for you and the kids."