He laced up his boots while I watched from thousands of miles away. I sat in my apartment in Boerne Texas and made sure to pay attention closely to each moment he was there, sharing time with me while preparing for a mission he would not tell me about – mostly because he didn’t know enough to tell me more than that he had to go soon… “I don’t know when I will have access to internet again, but hopefully soon.” He typed into Skype, smiling up at me, probably just to ease my discomfort, and maybe to convince himself the opportunity would come again. I sighed and felt saddened that this friend I have missed for years too quickly would be gone again.
I have never felt cold steel between my fingers. Never felt the sand burn my eyes from a thrashing Middle East wind. Never known the deep heartache of leaving the ones I love to travel across the world to another land in the name of Honor, Valor and in defense of our American freedom. But I do know what it is like to want to protect my children, my friends and my family, and I know had I given my life over to the Military, I would have been one of those brave Soldiers doing what my dear friend Eric is doing right now. I would give up everything I own; my happiness and my last breathe to ensure my daughters are safe and have a better chance at a brighter tomorrow. I have never worn the uniform, I have never tightly laced those boots to march into danger and I have never known the pain of having to say goodbye, not knowing if I would come back home. I do not know what it is like, but I have a deep, unwavering respect and appreciation for those whom DO. Tonight, I think deeply about the men and women who have served and those currently giving what I have not given, doing what I have not done.
For me, patriotism is not about celebrating a holiday, or singing the National Anthem at a Baseball game. It is not having a barbeque with friends and talking about how great we have it here as we revel in our American Dreams. It is not about occasionally pausing to reflect on those who died so that I could live free, say what I want to say, clothe and feed my children with the money I earn… Write this blog…
It is about honoring those brave men and women who literally gave their last breathe because they believed in something bigger than possessions, something bigger than pride and greed and the pursuit of our “American Dream.” By living my life with gratitude for what they have given me, by every single day saying prayers for their safety and by giving my time to a soldier in the middle of a war in Afghanistan, I am only doing the bare minimum compared to him, but I am grateful by the way I live – and I hope he knows that. Every moment, I care, and I remember what HE is doing for all of us. I pray asking God to shepherd him so that he may hold his little girl again. So that the people sharing the burden of a loaded gun at his side will return home to finally experience the life they are defending on our behalf.
My dear friend just returned from Afghanistan a few weeks ago. His adjustment back to our life here in this small, tight-knit community – our “hot tub gang” – was something I prayed about… That he would settle back into his job, his routine, and he would know we are all grateful for the time he spent there, helping wounded soldiers in harm’s way. He showed us some things I had never before had the privilege to see – not even close – and I peered in silence over the shoulders of my friends the scene of men scrambling to survive a close-range attack. The camcorder shook as he recorded from his helmet – a man so busy helping his brothers that he did not pay attention to his own injuries. The faces of those soldiers as they endured through the pain, wounded on the rocky terrain; you could hear screaming, you could see blood every few feet poured over the rocks – it still gives me chills…
As I watched this, I felt anger well up inside of me. Frustration because I do not understand why we are there. Why our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and children are being killed and irreparably wounded – their lives forever changed – for what? I cannot answer this question and just as so many other Americans like me, only wish I could stop it. Bring them home, protect OUR borders and strengthen our infrastructure so that these men and women will be safe again. All the same, though I do not understand, I defend that THEY are selfless, courageous and worthy of our respect and gratitude – no matter what we believe we’re fighting for.
It is not up to me to debate political agenda, and I do not pretend to understand really anything about this because to be honest I cannot bear it when I do pay attention. It just brings pain to my heart that another father is not going to be there to see the birth of his son. That another mother just left her children for a 16-month deployment and she will miss her son’s first football game as a Quarterback and her daughter’s High School graduation. It pains me to see another photograph of a stoic 19-year-old kid plastered on my TV as the news anchor briefly details what we “need to know” – that he was killed in action – before she quickly changes the subject to talk about how much debt this war is adding to our deficit. Will I remember that boy’s name? He will never marry, never hold his baby girl after his young wife delivers her into his arms. He will never see his parents again, and they will never hear the voice of their son whom joined the military because that is what his father did before him, and his father before that. Do I believe these soldiers have a stronger sense of bravery and duty than I do? Yes. Do I believe they understand why we are there? I will not answer this – but it bears repeating that it does not matter to me one way or the other – what matters is that they ARE there, and so it is MY duty to be thankful for that.
I do not intend to be morose, but I think people should talk about this more, because it is happening… and they deserve our support. Talking about it is the least we should do.
As we live our lives in this great nation, can we not at least continually remember and be grateful for what these men and women are doing right now, selflessly, so that WE have liberty and the choice to realize and live our dreams? We should be better, as a united country, at honoring – and stop feeling entitled to the benefits and the freedoms WE never gave up ANYTHING to have. Entitled being the key word there…
He and I got to see one another for a good long while and I was happy for the time we shared. In fact, I was surprised how it worked so well considering the distance is great between where I sit and where he sat. Eric gave ME some of his time, he gave me… While wearing that uniform, about to leave for a long mission on which he would see things I will never hear about. He will do things I will never know, and he will do it all because he is the kind of man that believes in standing up for the people you love.
So tonight, I honor you, Eric. I honor you for feeling cold steel between your fingers knowing you will be put in situations when you have to use it. I honor you for having to wipe your eyes to rid the pain of blowing sand as you walk streets where nobody speaks our language. I honor you for when you held your sweet little girl so tightly, knowing it would be months until you hold her again. I honor you for your bravery, your determination, and the many years of dedication you have given to the Military as a Soldier. I am sure you do not hear it enough because too many of us are too wrapped up in our silly dramas in our closed-eyed little worlds that we do not stop and really give thanks for all you have done, and all you are doing tonight. Right now.
For all the men and women who have and will sign their names on that packet and then stand at attention in your orientation into the military, unsure of what you will go through, unsure of what will be asked of you… Unsure if you have what it truly takes. Because you did and you do and you will have what it takes – when I did not – I honor you, and I am grateful.
For those whom will never read this for you have ascended into heaven dressed in blood-soaked camouflage, I say a prayer that you are at peace. And that you know, even in your peace, that your death was not in vain.
Because my daughters will know, this is my hope and maybe yours as well, a better tomorrow because of what you have done, and what those after you continued to do.
It is not just “a job.” It is a calling. Whether four years or 30. Whether a Marine, a Soldier, a Sailor… It ALL matters. It ALL gives us HOPE as Americans.
I am hoping it will not be long until Eric has a chance to reach America through the wonder of technology, so that I know he found his destination unscathed and lives to wave “hello” to his daughter once again over the internet. What gives me a certain peace, though I almost do not want to voice it for fear I tempt fate, is that HE is peaceful with his decision, he is peaceful with this deployment and sure of his mission. Because he knows what he is fighting for, and he knows the brothers and sisters at his side believe in the same things. He fights for love, he fights for purpose… He fights for you and me.
On Memorial Day, shouldn’t THAT be the thing we are excited about? Not a day off work. Not a barbeque… But in gratitude that we have these liberties at all because someone else fought and died for them.
May we remember what really matters? I know I do. It is my prayer tonight that anyone else whom reads this remembers it, too. And it is my prayer that they are all safe for one more night. That my sweet friend lays his head to find momentary rest and knows he is missed, and appreciated. That is the least I can give him for what he is giving me.