Growing up in Canada, my fellow students and I always sported poppies on our lapels and learned the poem “Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. When I moved the U.S., poppies were no longer as prominent, but most communities marked Veteran’s Day with special events.
My maternal grandfather was a bombardier in WWII, not unlike many grandpas. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and only spoke of his experience once that I know about, to a young Boy Scout a few years before he died. The grandchildren, and possibly his children, only heard his verbal telling on a CD archived in the Library of Congress thanks to the Veteran’s History Project.
My uncle served in Vietnam. I once found and read the letters he wrote to his mother. The epistles were stirring, reflecting the absurdity of war. I am grateful to have sat across from him as he recounted some wild moments experienced as a medic to my son whose interest in war stems solely from video games.
My dad was drafted and served in the Army. I think he worked in a hospital in Anchorage where he was during the great earthquake of ’64. He didn’t see action, but his slides of the earthquake were legendary in our family.
I would bet almost every family has a few military stories.
Given how life-altering military service can be, I am glad we have memorials to fallen soldiers and special remembrance ceremonies. I am grateful for museums that convey the battle stories of those who survived and those who cannot tell their tales. Our history helps us remember.
But it’s hard to properly thank a veteran, I think, mostly because they don’t walk around wearing telltale uniforms or walk with a hero’s gait. No, they walk among us camouflaged as everyday humans. We are thus unaware of the service, sacrifice, and lasting impact on them and their families as they go about civilian life.
But even when they are in uniform, I have a hard time simply walking up to someone and gushing gratitude when I don’t know their circumstance. I have heard veterans say that putting them on a pedestal can be highly uncomfortable.
So, I struggle about what to do beyond wearing my poppy and randomly reciting “In Flanders Fields”.
As I thought about this recently, I realized that there is no need to fret or force it. It turns out I am given opportunities to show my gratitude in what seems like more comfortable, authentic ways.
For years I have visited a local nursing home. I have listened to the stories of octogenarians and nonagenarians who fought for our country. I have heard these men laugh, swear like sailors (because they were sailors) and have seen them tear up over memories that they still have not shaken.
On a flight to Denver, I sat next to a veteran who served in Iraq but never knew his history until we hit some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced over the Rocky Mountains. My seatmate suddenly started shaking, clutching the armrest, and sweating profusely. By then I knew about PTSD. Unable to hide his panic, he confessed he was triggered by the bumpy plane ride. To distract him, I asked him engaging questions while he talked in a stream of consciousness about his mom and his girlfriend until the wheels hit the ground. We fortuitously ended up having three hour layovers and spent the time together having a drink and talking about his profound experiences.
And most recently, we purchased a car from a young salesman who had served in Afghanistan. He was a cowboy at heart trying to keep a job (he confessed this has been hard) to feed his family. As you know, buying a car can take the better part of three hours so he told us a little bit about his situation, about his trouble holding a job, and his dreams of raising rodeo stock. Let me tell you, knowing where my commission was headed that day made writing that check a little easier.
Frankly, I don’t know how to adequately express my thanks to a veteran. I’m horrible at it. I don’t know what it is supposed to sound like or look like to a person who has sacrificed so much while protecting our freedom.
Thank you just doesn’t seem like enough.
But, if you find yourself selling me a car, or sitting next to me on a plane, or just need a mealtime companion, then I’m all ears.
Listening to their stories is the least I can do.
Peace & Light,
The Busy Buddha
Edited by: Sara Neyer
These addicting little desserts are pretty fabulous and easy to make. The name was perfect for sharing with you this week!
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Tell your family's military story. How has it shaped your family?