“What are you thinking?”, asked the red headed nurse to the soldier.
“I-I-I-m wondering if I’ll get back home. The doctor isn’t too positive looking.”
“He’s tired,” she said. “He has long days tending the massive influx of incoming wounded.”
“When I get back, I want to go back to Harvard.”
“What were you studying there.”
“Philosophy. I have an interest in Philosophy, especially in Eastern Philosophies.”
“Oh, like Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism?”
“You seem to know a lot for a nurse. You’re as smart as you are gorgeous.”
“I do tend to arise more than in men than just their spirits,” she smiled.
He smiled back and said, “General Grant will prevail. The Union will be saved.”
“So I hear,” said Cassandra. “It seems more likely every day.”
She changed out his bandage on his leg, careful to not let him see the rapidly spreading gangrene into his abdomen.
“How’s my thigh?”
“I”m not a doctor. He’ll have to let you know.”
“If it’s gangrene, I’m a goner it’s too high to amputate.
“We’ll see,” said Cassy.
Cassy finished dressing the wound and was about to get up.
“Since you know all about eastern religions, what do you think Enlightenment is?” he asked.
“What do you think?”
“I think it’s a secret and amazing power to overcome all suffering.”
“Really? That’s not what I think.”
“What do you think?”
Cassy gave a dumb look and said, “I’m no philosopher like you.”
“Tell me. I know I’ll never get to have you like I want you, at least you can tell my what you think. I may not be here next week. This may be it.”
She sat down on his bed and leveled with him.
“You’re not going to be here much longer. The gangrene is in your abdomen. You’re not going back to Harvard. But I can tell you right now what enlightenment really is. What it is once you strip away all the bullshit, religious nonsense, flowery words and mystical stuff. Are you ready?”
The boy’s face was ashen.
“You look ready NOW,” she said.
She took out two pre-rolled cigarettes and gave one to him and herself. She lit a match lit his first and then hers.
She took a puff and spewed a puff of smoke into the air with such sensuality the entire ward almost came at once. Nobody ever took their eyes off of Cassy.
She bent over and whispered to him.
“Enlightenment, my dear Todd Cowen, is to love your fate absolutely and to grant yourself grace when you cannot do even that. Enlightenment is shared and co-dependent – you need others to help you sustain it. That said, I would say that Enlightenment is the eternal decision to never be a coward with reality.”
She took another puff and said.
“It’s fucking courage – and not the puffed up kind. The quiet kind. The resolute kind. YOUR kind.”
She tipped her cigarette at him to make the point. Then she continued.
“Do you know how I know you are strong?” she asked.
“Because you will face death soon. Life makes the most amazing creatures, and her greatest gift to all is that it makes every one of her children strong enough to face death — even if they think they cannot. That is why I love life, and why I love YOUR life.
She winked at him. And then spoke with stark clarity.
“I think you should write a letter while you can. You can dictate it to me. I will make sure your loved ones get it.”
He rustled to a sitting position.
“I want them to remember me as brave…” he said.
“I assure you I will,” she said.
She got up quickly and returned with paper and pen. She held the writing board and paper in one hand with the the cigarette and the pen in the other. She set the ink bottle on the floor.
“Dear Mom, Dad and Trix…” he began.