I could see the delight in our childrens’ eyes and the excitement in their voices yesterday as we discussed our plans for a fun Memorial Day weekend getaway. My mind began to drift away, back to the time I was so very moved by an elderly veteran in a restaurant waiting area years ago:
I was waiting with the family I grew up with as well as my own, laughing and loving being with all of them, when the elderly gentleman opened the entrance door and slowly walked in, revealing the extremely decorated uniform he wore with perfectly polished shoes.
Though he was frail, it didn’t stop him from using his back to hold the door open for his daughter while moving his cane from one hand to another. In return, she steadied him by holding his arm while he found a place to sit in the waiting area.
As I watched her help him get settled for the wait then walk over to see the attendant, I watched him place the cane gently beside him on the seat, then sit straight up with his head held high.
There was something very humble about him, yet so proud and honorable. I couldn’t help but wonder as I examined his uniform how much he had seen and how much he must have gone through. How much did he sacrifice? Did he see a friend die in the war? How many others had he seen die? Had he been seriously injured at some point? How much did his family sacrifice? How many nights had he slept on hard ground, longing to hear the voice of his wife or daughter?
Lost in my thoughts, she came back to sit beside him, and as she looked at him with pride I saw her utter the words, “I love you, Daddy” and kissed him on the cheek. As he slowly turned to look at her, I saw him muster a loving smile as he patted her hand then turned back to sit tall once again.
I felt tears well up in my eyes. Yes, this man had sacrificed. And his daughter hadn’t forgotten. She saw me at that very moment, acknowledging me with a smile as I returned the same, feeling overwhelmingly humbled.
Almost immediately our family was called to be seated, and I realized the sound of my family laughing and having fellowship together had been drowned out by my thoughts of this man and his daughter. It’s because of the sacrifices like those he had made for his country, for all of us, that my family and I were free. Free to meet together for a meal, free to pursue our dreams, free to do almost anything we set our hearts to do.
As I was the last to stand and walk toward the table, I stopped in the back of the line, turned back toward him and walked up to him with my hand extended. As he slowly lifted his head, I asked him, “May I shake your hand?” He slowly lifted his hand and we shared a firm handshake. Feeling more gratitude than I’m sure I’d had in a long time, I said sincerely “Thank you for your service, Sir”. The creases of his mouth turned up and the tears in my eyes began to well up again. He gave me a slow, deliberate nod as if to answer, “You’re welcome”.
Walking back to the table to join my family, somehow I knew that this would be one of the more memorable times with them. Not that it would be any different than any other meal we’d had, but because I was filled with gratitude. I wasn’t concerned with the cares of my seemingly petty daily struggles. I was more aware of the blessings in my life: a comfortable bed, peaceful sleep, peaceful days, hot meals, healthy children, freedom to be with family, freedom…..to live as we would like. All because of the sacrifices of strangers and God’s grace.
As we come closer to Memorial Day, I hope everyone remembers what this holiday is all about. Our veterans are why we are here today. Without their bravery, courageousness, and love of our country; we wouldn’t have the life we do.
So when you’re spending time with your family this weekend, make sure you also think about the ones that made that possible. Thank a veteran for their service and everything they have done. And in having done so, may you be filled with gratitude and may your worries be small, if even for a weekend.