Becoming a Good Man

Becoming a Good Man

By Sal Buttaci. 

“That same dream, David?”

John’s teenage son nodded. Recounting a dream was one thing, but when that dream recurs nearly every night, even the dreamer is understandably bored but no less bewildered.

“You suppose he’s trying to tell you something? They say dreams have meaning. What do you think, Son?”

The three of them sat at breakfast. Father, who had put down his usual daily newspaper while sipping coffee, now no longer piping hot; mother pouring orange juice into their glasses and David, their son, staring at his toast like someone at a loss for appetite and words. While most of his friends spoke of parents as though they were the enemy, too busy to listen, David was thankful his were always ready to give an ear even to this mysterious dream.

Finally, he lay down the slice of uneaten toast and said, “I walk into a hospital room. This old guy is lying propped up in bed. I mean, the guy is really old. He motions me towards him with a hand that shakes a lot. I sit in the chair beside his bed.”

“Your grandfather?”

“No, Ma, it’s not Grandpa. This old man has plenty of white hair, and he’s much thinner than Grandpa. I never saw him before except in this dream.”

David’s mother pushed the box of shredded wheat towards him. He filled his bowl and poured down some milk. Telling the dream for some reason made him hungry now.

“So what does this old man say?” she asked. “The same thing every dream?”

David donned that pensive look his father always wore: hand on chin, eyebrows knitted over dark-brown eyes. “We talk. Well, mostly he talks. About how to become a good man.”

“He an angel maybe? They’ve been known to appear in dreams. Look at Joseph and the Three Wise Men and ––“

“Ma, I don’t think he was an angel. Just a dying old man. Worn out, tired, ready to close his eyes for good.”

“What does he tell you about becoming a good man?” John asked.

How many times now had David told them his dream? What was the sense of repeating it? He drank down the last of his orange juice, then said, “I should be honest, kind, believe in God, love America… things like that.”

“And this old man,” asked David’s father, “he teaches you every time this same dream repeats itself? Isn’t once enough? Why not tell it one time and be done with it?”

David Michaels reflected on those early days. How the years had flown by! Both parents were gone now. And so much water under the bridge. The times he rowed through the rapids. The harrowing periods of his life when he came close to drowning, dragged by the violent currents against his will, tossed from capsized boats, fearing for his life. All the while he had done his best to learn the old man’s lessons, even when doing so earned him little praise and too often much ridicule by those who had found their own way to becoming men.

He had fought in the wars, returned home miraculously unharmed, married Esther, the girl in his high school math class, had three children that too soon left the nest to fend for themselves, and lost Esther even sooner than that to cancer. Yet, in his loneliness and sorrow, he maintained the virtues the old dream-man had taught him.

Looking back, he could chuckle at his steadfast honesty which impressed others and at the same time convinced them he valued a do-or-die truth. They called him one “honest damn fool.”

And as for kindness, even when walking was a challenge in his declining years, he would buy a backseat of winter socks, heavy trousers and flannel shirts, underwear, gloves, hats, and even shoes, then drive through the slums of the Bronx and distribute them to the homeless he found in alleyways and in cardboard shelters. The misfortunate there did not consider him a damn fool; they wept; they mouth toothless smiles; they called him a saint.

What had the old dream-man said? “Love God and country.” David read the Bible and did his best to follow its good counsel. Scripture did not for him contain mere words to read but words by which to live one’s life.

In that long ago recurring dream, the man quoted Jesus. “Love one another.” When the dream ended, the old man squeezed the boy’s hand and died. Young David sat beside the bed pondering it all.

Now at ninety, David lay in what he called “his final bed.” All dreams dissipated, the end of the proverbial tunnel so close he could see the white light flickering like fingers beckoning. He welcomed sleep, an escape from pain, a respite from the cancer that insisted on his complete attention.

His younger days had delivered him recurring dreams that made night so inviting. There he would sit alongside an old man and take in what the old dream patient taught about how to march to truth and not to the whims and sins of the crowd. Life had sometimes been lonely for him, but he persevered. That old dream-man would have been so proud.

Old David closed his eyes and yearned to dream.

“Mr. Michaels, are you awake?” asked the night-shift nurse. In her hand a Dixie cup of water; in the other, his night-time medications.

David fluttered open his eyes, then locked them shut and dismissed her with a wave of his paper-thin hand. He’d been dreaming. That same dream. In this same hospital room. Lying in this same bed from which one day he would not awaken. Beside him, in the chair, he heard a young voice say, “Tell me more about being brave. Tell me again what truth is.”

His eyes sprang open. The dream visitor was gone. David lay there weeping. The nurse stood beside him, dabbing at the tears tumbling from his eyes. “That same dream again, Mr. Michaels? Your young visitor?”

David nodded, hardly able to speak, but then he stared up at her, appearing almost saintly, and said, “Yes, the boy. The boy.”



SAL BUTTACI’s first published work, an essay entitled “Presidential Timber,” appeared in the Sunday New York News when he was sixteen. Since then his poems, articles, letters, flash and short stories have been widely published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Cats Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, and numerous others here and abroad. In 2007 he was the recipient of the $500.00 Cyber-wit Poetry Award. He lives in West Virginia with his wife Sharon, the love of his life and his work’s inspiration.

Photo by Paul Downey.

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