My sister and her husband came to visit my wife and me for the weekend. They just arrived tonight, and we shared a glass of wine, and did a little catching up. As we talked about their trip, they shared with me that they had had a couple of opportunities in the airports along the way to express their gratitude to a Service Member, but had missed them. Both times they were walking along the concourse, both hands full, and the moment just went by them too quickly to do anything about it.
My wife added that she had had a couple of similar missed opportunities recently, where she was at a grocery store, and wanted to say "thank you" to a Service Member, but they never made eye contact. This is a little ironic for my wife in particular by the way, since she appears in our video, and the first shot or scene in the video of her watching the Soldiers walk by is what the Director, Amy Sedgwick and I referred to as the "missed opportunity shot".
I've had many such experiences myself, where I saw a Service Member out in public, and I wanted to express my gratitude, but circumstances did not allow it. Perhaps they were too far away, or I couldn't get to them, or they were engaged in some activity that would have been rude for me to interrupt. Then I was left with this nagging feeling that I had missed my opportunity -- that perhaps I had just wimped out, made excuses, and failed to take the initiative to approach them. Then I felt bad for not telling this person how much their service means to me.
So, here's what I've learned from those experiences: It's OK. Sure, in our video we say, "Just don't miss the opportunity to thank the person right in front of you." But that line is not intended as a guilt-trip -- it's a goal -- an intention. It doesn't mean that you have to feel bad if you miss a single opportunity to thank someone. There will be other opportunities -- trust me. The point is not to kick yourself for missing one, but rather to set the intention to take the next one.
The one other thing I would add to that is that this is a relatively new campaign in the grand scheme of things. Sure, most Service Members have seen our video, and are familiar with the Sign. But we've still got work to do to make receiving our Sign as common for those who serve as sending or receiving a military salute. You are part of that work. They have been trained to look for rank insignias on other uniforms to determine if they should be sending or receiving a military salute from another Service Member -- they haven't been trained to look for our Sign... yet. We're training them now -- you and me. So my advice to you when you can't make eye contact is: Give them the Sign anyway. Perhaps they'll see the tail end of it, if not the entire thing. Perhaps they'll see it out of the corner of their eye. And the more they see it, the more they'll look for it. It will become a reflex -- just like the military salute.
And even if they don't see it, you will know that you did it. And trust me on this one, doing it feels better than not doing it. Even if they don't see it at all.