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