Veteran’s Day is for us all, whether we actually put on the uniform and saw combat or not. We turn ourselves upon those who did, awestruck, and try in any demonstrable effort to point our collective American focus on those who traded some measure of their freedom in exchange that we might not have to bargain with ours. We can’t know what it’s like to be 7000 miles away from everything we’ve ever known because our country, our people, asked us to go there. We can’t know how changed, transfigured, one might be afterwards.
There is a photograph of my grandfather in his living room standing in uniform arm in arm, smiling, with his wife who sits in that same room with him every day. They are who they are because he wore that. I am who I am because he wore that. We are all who we are because they wore that.
Sadly, last week reminded us that these stories do not always end in picturesque black and white photographs and the romance of how the Greatest Generation allowed us to say the Pledge of Allegiance in school in English. Sometimes the transfiguration, whatever its source, is not into something noble, beautiful, and romantic; sometimes there is a horrible metamorphosis, twisting at the soul of those caught between commitments and tragically unmoored from the mission they are commissioned to execute – our country, our people, who count on every man and woman in service, who need every man or woman in service – our safety, our freedom and our identity is their mission. Sometimes the tragedies are not quite so grotesque as unfolded last week in Texas. Sometimes it’s small, and simple, like the nameless stories that newspapers never cover like newly married couples who make their lifelong commitments just months before being flung across continents to carry out the yearlong ones. But I guess it’s only small and simple from the outside.
I have faith that that photograph and that couple and every wonderful and morose moment in between occurs under the watchful eye of a loving God, even, paradoxically, the murders at Ft. Hood. I certainly don’t understand how, and I am returned to the often unsatisfying “My ways are not your ways” from Isaiah 55:8, but to be fair, I don’t understand how the two people found their way from the photograph to their living room half a century later, either.
Let it at least serve as a terrible reminder for us, all of us, that we need them. And that we need Him. We need the servicemen and women, because without them, we are not “we.” Our country, our people are defined by the dividends of freedom they have voluntarily surrendered so that ours may collect interest. As we realize this, though, it may be easy to overlook the fact that as much as we need them, they need us, too. They keep going because of us. A care package, a letter, a meal, a handshake, a thank you serves to remind them that we have not forgotten that they have done something incomparably gracious just by doing their job, by being who they are. So I take this opportunity to say thank you to them for in their sacrifices, I see lives lived in the example of that loving God, whether they realize it or not, and a simple reminder to put our focus on them, and Him, today, on Veteran’s Day. But I guess it’s only simple from the outside.