Today, Lawrence can tell you when his dad graduated from college, the middle initials and home towns of many former colleagues, and the medical term for the ailment that killed his brother 50 years ago. But he sometimes dozes off in mid-conversation. He must type one-handed, so he doesn't write newspaper or magazine articles anymore. He walks unassisted, but with a pronounced limp that keeps him off the tennis court. Buttons and ties tangle his fingers.
"I think in his whole life he's been able to will himself out of bad situations," says daughter Laurie, an emergency room doctor in Nashville. "But he can't will himself back to perfect health, and that's been the hard part."
Indeed, if he once thought his depression was a harsher imprisonment than the POW camp, Lawrence feels certain it was easier being a POW than a stroke victim.
"In the POW camp, you could get deep in thought and derive pleasure from just using your mind," he says. "But in some ways, the effects of the stroke have been more frustrating than it was in the POW camp because it's made difficult so many things I enjoy doing."
Diane turned their home into a rehab clinic after his stroke. She worked with her husband six hours a day, seven days a week -- just as she had with McCain years earlier.
Today, exercise equipment fills a former bedroom, where Lawrence works to strengthen his damaged left side. Two years ago, doctors at Johns Hopkins gave him an intelligence test and found no lingering effects of the stroke. Still, there are good days and bad.
It's not, he says, the life he imagined for himself. But he's not unhappy.
Lawrence once wrote that a POW's reward is "a great feeling of inner calm and serenity. Because you know that there are very few things in life that could happen to you that you couldn't cope with. In fact, nothing."
And so he grudgingly accepts doctors' warnings that his numb left side may be permanently damaged. He harbors no bitterness toward his ex-wife, having realized she was a victim of the war, too. He feels he has made up for the years he lost with all three of his children.
Wendy, 39, recently ended a six-year stint with NASA. She belongs to an elite club of 242 people -- just 31 women -- who have been thrust skyward on a space shuttle. Only a fraction have gone up three times, as she has. After a three-year assignment with the National Reconnaissance Office, a spy agency that oversees U.S. satellites, she plans to return to NASA and hopes to set foot inside the international space station some 240 miles above Earth.
Every few weekends, Wendy drives up from her home in northern Virginia to see her father and to rake leaves, chop wood, replace roof shingles or rewire an old lamp. She helps him walk into the back yard, where they sit and talk of Navy ships -- "Remember the New Jersey?" -- the academy's mediocre football team, and outer space.
Friends say his relationship with his daughter has somehow closed the circle of Lawrence's life.
"Although I'd like to be doing what Wendy is doing -- and I know I can't -- it really gives me pleasure to see her doing so well," he says. "We've always been close, but I think the fact that she's pursued the same career makes us even closer.
"And it compensates a lot for the difficult things I've faced in my life."
From the large, cheery house on the hill, surrounded by photos and mementos, Bill Lawrence looks out at the Severn River several times a day. The choppy waters remind him of the oceans he has crossed.
Pub Date: 03/07/99