“We identify the flag with almost everything we hold dear on earth, peace, security, liberty, our family, our friends, our home. . .But when we look at our flag and behold it emblazoned with all our rights we must remember that it is equally a symbol of our duties. Every glory that we associate with it is the result of duty done.”
I had the amazing opportunity last week to fly to Virginia Beach, VA to witness the birth of my first GREAT nephew. A baby born to a young mother who selflessly followed her heart 2100 miles away from everything and everyone she knew. Her "heart" being a man who bravely signed the dotted line swearing to defend you, me, & this great country, whatever the cost.
I have long been hugely patriotic. I cannot hear "Proud to be an American" without full on waterworks, or pass a soldier in uniform and not have the urge to just reach out and touch them (I guess I would liken it to the desire one would have to reach out and touch their favorite celeb or the pope)...they are truly my heroes. I resist the urge usually, as they might have the urge to touch me back and well...they are trained in combat. I try hard as a parent to instill the same sense of pride in our country and those that defend it into my children. Sometimes I feel inadequate but, honestly, I don't know where mine came from. My mother didn't directly speak of such things. Maybe it is an innate compulsion? I really just don't know, but I take every opportunity I come across to teach the importance of patriotism and thankfulness to those who serve.
During my stay I witnessed a small taste of their life, and my admiration only grew.
My trip began when I walked into a hospital room. My sweet 18 year old niece braving "labor" without her family. Relying on texts and Face Time for advice and answers. In my heart of hearts it just couldn't possibly be enough. Her husband, quiet and sober, doing all he could to comfort her while dealing with his own uncertainties. Prepared to do it all on their own.
To my amazement, after the delivery, I learned that 3 of his military "brothers" had been sitting for 8 hrs in the L&D waiting room. I don't think ANY of my family waited for 8 hrs in the waiting room. More like, "Hey, call when it's close & we'll come back." No, not here, these men were committed! They are each others family.
A drive to take the grandma back to their "home" revealed an 800sq ft, one bedroom apartment, and thankfully, a pull out loveseat for us. Oh, the pull out bed. Honestly, it was a relief initially, as I was fully prepared to sleep on the floor. The relief was short lived as later we caught a glimpse of the 4 inch thick mattress, followed by the advice that it may actually be more comfortable on the floor as opposed to on the couch frame, followed immediately by the realization that it had a million teeny tiny springs and the disappointment that any cushion that may have existed was long ago mashed and displaced by someone's mother-in-law that, based on the condition, came WAY too often and stayed WAY too long! This much mother-in-law time surely caused marital discourse and probably ended the marriage which is likely how the couch ended up in the thrift store. Ok, I don't really know the history of the couch or the condition of the aforementioned marriage, but I do know that couch has been used...ALOT. But the beauty of that loveseat, that coffee table, that...well...that was all of their furnishings...but the beauty of the whole situation was...it was ok. He is making what I can only imagine is pennies above minimum wage. He isn't working at some menial job...he has committed 4 yrs, moved across the country, pledged his loyalty and life to this country...for minimum wage. Who does that? The fry cooks at McDonalds believe they deserve more than that. But neither of them complained. Instead, I heard talk of what it takes to move up and saw the determination and mindset to do so. Such a pleasant change from the "everyone owes me" mentality. The very people who we, as a free people, owe everything to, are the people working, fighting, and dying their way up to middle class.
Remember those "brothers" in the waiting room? I got to know a couple of them a little better. Speaking with them brought me to understand that, while the core of most of these men are the same, their reasons for joining are vastly different. Andrew (my nephew) admittedly joined after high school when he had no idea what he wanted to do or which direction to take. I met 2 other men, one I will call "Priest" and the other "Spaghetti." Priest wants to be just that...a Priest. I suppose because of his young age, he was advised to go out, live a little, and make sure he truly wants to dedicate his whole life to the church. He is VERY smart, educated, articulate, and well traveled...and still applying to seminary FYI. "Spaghetti" is an Italian (obviously) from a well to do family in New Hampshire. Though I spent much more time with him than I did with Priest...I learned a lot less about him. Spaghetti had quite a "tough guy" persona...and I don't think it had anything to do with how bad I beat him at bowling or how much I may have bragged about it. But really, he obviously isn't someone that opens up much. His traditional Italian upbringing leant toward "family" being very important, and even though we weren't HIS family, he wanted to be a part of the family scenario we represented and he clearly missed. I suspect that his joining was directly related with doing something that would make his them proud. Whatever the reason behind any soldiers decision to commit, be it education, exploration, indecision, or patriotism... keep this in mind;
That decision is equivalent to going to a store, putting your arm around a stranger, and saying..."if the situation arises, I will die for you today."
I only witnessed a simple life with some minor financial struggles, some heart wrenching home-sickness, a couple of amazing relationships that have become pseudo family, 2 kids digging deep to find the strength to do it alone, & one uber cute baby boy to make it all worth it. But in my soul I know that there are others who have been asked to give more and rose to the task.
As I prepared to leave that little girl who grew up way too fast right before my eyes, as I hugged her and wiped her tears, and as I cried my own...I fumbled and searched for some adequate way to express how very proud I was of her. How proud I was for all she gave up to be with the man that she loved. For being brave enough to start a family so far from home and help. I tried to tell her, but I failed.
As any good Aunt would do, I gave Andrew his marching orders...nod your head and do whatever she asks even when it seems irrational, be strong for her, and take some baby night shifts. I believe he is up for the job on all accounts. Again, I failed to express how proud I was of the life decision that he made...though without him knowing, I reached out and touched him.
Please understand that this post is relative to my little corner of the world, but intended for a stronger grasp of the whole and a genuine expression of how proud I am of Saige and Andrew. It is in no way a broad description of every situation as I am sure they are all very different. I have no personal knowledge of the life that these men and women live daily, I am a civilian from a civilian family. But I am a proud American. I am a patriot to my very core. I hope to do more though I know it will never be enough. And I pledge to be more vocal regarding my gratitude toward them, even the strangers, but I'll probably still keep from touching them...just in case.
And yet again, as I read and proof this post, I can't help but feel this too is an inadequate representation. All I have to offer is my sincere heartfelt THANK YOU.