top of page

The Best Seat in the House

Time may be infinite, but our slice of it is not. Therefore, love.

Photo of Allen Shields in a US Army uniform from World War II.
Pvt. Allen Shields (aka my dad) in Berlin.

In 1945, my father was a private in the U.S. Army occupying post-war Berlin. He delivered mail to various officers, and said it was the first time he heard profanity. Real profanity. Tough shit, not tough situation.

  Like a lot of men who fought in World War II, my dad didn’t talk much about his experiences there. But he did tell me one story about going to see an opera. Even in its reduced state, Berlin was a great cultural center, and he loved classical music. So he bought a ticket for a nosebleed seat in the upper reaches of the opera hall. But when he arrived, dressed in his uniform as was required, the ushers led him through the doors to the orchestra level, down to the front row, and bumped a man sitting in the center. Take it, they said. It was the best seat in the house. Simply because he was in the American army. That kind of attention embarrassed my dad, who never relished the spotlight. But he took the seat. How could you turn down that offering, fraught though it was with its undertones of victor and vanquished? Yet who could deny that simple act of generosity in the midst of so much loss.


Soldiers in World War II using parachutes.

With the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, my father and his generation have been much on my mind. I was moved to see the Olympic flame land on Omaha beach, and to follow the progress of the last D-Day veterans, now in their 90s and100s, marking the occasion.

  Talk about passing a torch.

  Watching that generation leave us, I find myself tearing up easily. For example, reading about how, in the French town of Sainte-Mère-Église, among the first in Normandy to be liberated, a French woman was photographed leaving flowers at the grave of a U.S. soldier. Bereaved American mothers saw the picture in Life Magazine and sent letters begging her to visit their son’s graves, too. And she did.

  The simple grace of that gesture, its compassion, fills me with awe. A loss suffered by one is suffered by all, and healing, too, can be a shared thing. These small acts of kindness and generosity are our most holy offerings.


In this life we lose everything. All the people we love, all our cherished experiences and memories, our beliefs, our triumphs and failures, certainly our homes and clothes and jewels and hopes.

Every. Single. One.  

  I know this like the back of my veined and spotted hand.

  But lately the veil between reality and infinity feels ever thinner. Case in point: My husband and I had dinner with one of his Army buddies while in France recently. A lovely man, gifted in the art of deep conversation and in getting to the heart of the matter. Now quite frail. But vital. The spark still sparkling.

  When we finally got up after a long, lingering meal, the wait staff were so kind and attentive. They helped him on with his jacket, they handed him his cane. When we parted, I hugged him a little extra long. Just because. Just in case.

  If we’re destined to lose it all, then the thing to do is to love like crazy.

The shifting sky, a cooling breeze, the glass of water placed on a table and the friend seated across from you who reaches for it.

A purring cat, cool crisp watermelon, lilacs in the yard. The best seat in the house.


Jean Shields Fleming is the founder and editor of Certain Age Magazine.


Pvt. Allen Shields from the author

Aerial shots from World War II from the Public Domain Review

189 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All

2 Kommentare

Yes, a tear and a certain constriction in the throat.

Gefällt mir


This so very poignant and fabulous. Thank you❤️❤️

Gefällt mir
bottom of page