Emma’s Song – A Story of Love (Part 5 of 5)
Editor’s Note: This week marks the conclusion of Chuck Clegg’s Emma’s Song: A Story of Love. We hope you have enjoyed the talented Mr. Clegg’s story as much as we have.
It took Emma a few minutes to steady herself before venturing into the ward filled with hundreds of injured soldiers. She asked, “Who are these men, and why haven’t families came for them?”
The nurse did not answer for a moment as she gathered her thoughts.
“There are as many different reasons as there are men here. Some may be listed as Missing In Action and families believe they are dead. They wore no name tags when they were recovered and their injuries took away their identity. Thousands of men are listed as Missing In Action; unfortunately some may be here.”
The nurse pointed towards one man who looked perfectly fine as he lay staring at the ceiling.
“That man suffers from what is known as shell shock. An exploding shell was so close, the blast concussion damaged his brain, erasing everything. With time he may recover.”
She pointed towards another man, “That man recovered with only his childhood memories. Others have no idea how to feed themselves or even go to the bathroom.”
The nurse stepped towards the middle of the room and looked down the long row of beds, “For some a bullet or shrapnel damaged them; their body recovered, but their minds did not.”
She turned to Emma, “You may not understand this, but for some it may have been more merciful if they had not survived. What kind of life will they have in a place like this?”
Emma stepped toward the row of beds and looked at war’s reality first hand. She turned and asked, “What will become of them?”
The nurse answered, “The Red Cross and Army are trying to find families. With time I am guessing most families will be found. The Army is building new hospitals to try and take care of the ones we can help. With time some will recover. For a lucky few, family will find them and take them home. When that happens, it is a good day.”
The nurse turned to Emma, “Mrs. Nobel, the only way to possibly find your husband is to begin looking at the men.” As they walked, Emma saw faces of men so badly damaged she doubted even their mothers would recognize them. Their injuries were terrible and no medical doctor of the day could repair this kind of damage the war had done to them. There were dozens of men with missing arms and legs. There were even some missing all their appendages. Only their head and body were left to survive. Emma began to feel ill, but she was determined not to let her weakness show and dishonor these men. Humanity seemed to have gone from this hospital ward of injured men.
She asked the nurse, “How do you do it? I mean so much misery and despair, how do you and the others come into this each day?
The nurse hesitated a minute, “For the most of us, we do it as a calling; the reason we got into medicine is to help others. I am here..” She hesitated for a moment. “I am here for the same reason you are. My son was lost and I never knew what happened to him. I come here each day hoping I will find him. Until them, I’ll try and give comfort to those men whose mothers cannot be here.”
After nearly an hour of searching for Paul in the faces of broken souls, they neared the center of the building. There, Emma could see that the building opened on both sides to rooms. One side was the nurse’s station, and on the other was a place for supplies on high shelves. As she neared the supply area the nurse pointed, “Over behind those shelves is where the old piano is stored; we’ll see if the man who sits there is here today.”
Emma thoughts raced as she moved between the tall shelves. As she neared she could see just the top of the man’s head. Stepping around the corner of the piano, she could not yet see his face. The man’s head was tipped down toward the keys. His hair was long and showing gray. She could tell the man needed a shave. From what she could tell, there was a hollowness to his appearance. It kind of looked like Paul, but this man seemed aged. Kneeling down, she hoped to see his face more clearly. Then he turned slightly towards her… it was Paul. She was overwhelmed with emotions as tears of joy streamed down her face. Emma sat down next to him and hugged him and held him tight. She could feel his ribs and shallowed body from malnutrition.
“Paul, it’s me, Emma.” He seemed to take no notice of her words or her touch. Her joy of finding him after a few minutes was replaced with the reality of Paul’s condition.
The nurse stepped near, “Mrs. Nobel, You must remember he has been through a terrible ordeal we cannot even imagine. You said he was an officer? Well, the Germans took officers prisoner for their intelligence value. Your husband was lost early in the war; he would have been a valuable asset to them. Not sure if his condition is from his injuries or his captivity. We may never know.”
Emma looked up at the nurse. “He does not know me.” The nurse said, “Give him time. Time and love can sometimes make all the difference in the world. I’ll leave you two alone.”
Emma sat with Paul for what seemed to be hours. He simply sat staring at the piano keys, taking no notice of Emma’s presence. She talked gentle to him and told him of his son. It made little difference in his expression. Finally, she thought, perhaps if I played the song he wrote for me…
She began to play. The old piano was slightly out of tune and one key did not work, but still she played. Paul showed no emotions. Emma stopped her playing and sat for a moment as she began to realize the reality of her husband’s condition. As she sat wondering what next to do, Paul slowly placed his right hand on the sounding board of the piano and just sat there as if he were waiting for something. Emma wondered, why now has he done this?
Then something came into her mind… could it be? She wondered. Slowly she began to play his song once again. This time, as she played, tears began to flow down his cheeks. He closed his eyes and seemed to enjoy the sound vibrations he could now feel in his touch.
Emma spoke out loud, “He cannot hear; he has been locked in a world of no sound and emptiness.” About then the nurse returned and saw what was happening. She, too, cried as she listened to the sounds of the old piano. Paul had come home.
Emma brought Paul home, and over time he found his way to understand the silent world around him. He loved to sit and hold his son and smile when young Paul laughed. Some years later, Paul began playing keys on the piano. He placed his hand to feel the vibrations of the sound. He even learned to play Emma’s Song with a little help from her, using one hand.
Paul learned to communicate, writing simple words to his family. Lieutenant Paul Nobel was one of many men who came home after the Great War; only it took him years to complete the journey. In the end, the love between Emma and Paul along with their son made the journey complete.
There is one more part to the Nobel family story before I end. In the summer of 2013, warming temperatures in Alaska revealed the bodies of three gold miners and their pack mules. Two of the men were identified by letters they carried from home. One of the men was Henry Nobel. The date on his letter told it was written in November of 1904. The authorities believed the men were covered by an avalanche and frozen deep beneath the snows. Henry’s body was returned to his family whom he had never known.
They placed him alongside his beloved wife, Beth. Paul and Emma Nobel are buried nearby. The family was again joined as we remember, once upon a time Through the Lens.