I attended a ceremony at a local Veterans home this morning in observance of Veterans Day. As I sat in the audience listening to the presenters, I was struck by a couple of things.
First, I was struck by the fact that all of the presenters – every last one of them – were Veterans. The vast majority of the people in the audience were Veterans. As I looked around, it seemed as though this event was really about Veterans honoring each other, as opposed to us honoring them. Where were we?
Sheer numbers suggest that the audience should be filled with more civilians honoring Veterans than Veterans honoring each other. There are about 23 million living Veterans in the United States today, and a little over 2.6 million currently serving in some capacity. That’s 8.5% of our population. Where was the remaining 91.5% of us who have not served but live, and have lived our entire lives under the blanket of the freedom that these people have provided to us? I realize that it was a Friday, and many of “us” were at work. But Veterans work, too. If they can get there, why can’t we?
I suddenly remembered conversations I’d had with parents of teen-aged children about their relationships with their children. Conversations about how the child feels entitled to have the parent provide a roof over their head, clothes on their back, food in their stomach, the latest iPod, smart-phone, tickets to the concert, fees for their sports team, and rides and spending money in their pocket to go do… whatever it is that teenagers do. But the child can’t be bothered to spend time with the family, offer a hug, or tell their parents they love them. No, a simple “thank you,” or “I love you” is too much to ask of them.
I thought this is what it must feel like to be a Veteran. To have sacrificed years of your life; in many cases your mental and/or physical health; relationships; financial abundance… the list goes on and on… all in defense of people who don’t even appreciate it, and in some cases are completely indignant and disrespectful in return. And, like the parent who loves their child no matter how self-centered and unappreciative they are, the Veteran continues to serve regardless of how civilians respond; and in many cases even respects the civilian’s right to be disrespectful as an expression of the very freedom that they are defending.
I’m not a parent. And I’m not a Veteran. But I hope that I can love as deeply as they do; and that I can serve as unconditionally.
Thank you, Veterans, for showing me (again) what unconditional love looks like.
And thank you Mom and Dad (a Veteran). I love you.