Thank You for your service…

By U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway [Public domain], via Wikimedia Common

This morning started out like any other Sunday for the past 5 months.  The alarm jolts me out of bed at 3:30am and I stumble to the shower in an attempt to wash away the sleep from my eyes.  I take the 14 mile drive to the center of the city and join the other 18 people who gather every Sunday morning to feed the homeless in our city.  But today wouldn’t be like every other Sunday.  Today I met a man, who left his mark on my heart.

As the morning go underway and the people came through the doors, the activity level in the kitchen was high.  Today we were shorthanded so aside from cooking breakfast, I went out to the dining area to help serve.  I was passing out coffee while the preacher welcomed everyone.  He asked a simple question…”Are there any veterans here today?”.  I’ve heard the question a dozens of times and it usually results in a number of guests proudly raising their hands and calling our what branch of the armed forces they served in.  I happen to be standing next to one who proudly said he served.  He looked at me and told me he served in Vietnam.  I thanked him for his service.  I finished serving his coffee and as I prepared to walk away, he said “I served in Vietnam for $68 a month and when I came home…they spit at me and called me names”.  He didn’t sound bitter, he sounded pained, hurt, disillusioned.  I told him how sorry I was that his sacrifice was not honored then, but that “I” thanked him for his service to this great country.  I shared with him that I considered it a privilege to have been born on US soil and briefly told him how my parents were immigrants and that had fled a country were communism had destroyed the human spirit and deprived its citizens of the most basic human rights.  I told him how grateful they were to have been welcomed in this great nation.  I told him both my brothers were veterans also; one served in the Army the other in the Air Force.  My stepdaughter had done two tours during Dessert Storm and my son-in-law served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We continued chatting for a bit and before leaving his side, I thanked him again for his service.  He responded “And I thank you for yours”.  For a moment, I didn’t know how to answer that.  I struggled as I tried to acknowledge his kind words.  But, how could he compare my service to his?  Was getting up at 3:30am as selfish an act as going off to war and risking everything including your life for your country?  Of course not.  What could he possibly mean by that?  I said “Thank you, but I don’t put my life on the line everyday.”  He looked at me and said “But you saved my life today.”  He embraced me and quietly walked away.

I am not a narcissist, I do not have delusions of grandeur and I certainly don’t think that I have anything to do with keeping him alive, but this I know…he needed to be heard today and I am honored to have been the ears he needed.  I was blessed by him and humbled that he chose me to share his morning with.  After he walked away, I realized that I didn’t get his name nor he mine.  If he comes back next Sunday, I look forward to being of service again.

The deepest desire of the human spirit is to be acknowledged.  Stephen Covey


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