Sunday, May 16, 2010
THE TALLEST MAN I EVER MET
I remember going to the circus when I was a little girl. I remember the sword swallower, the fat lady, the fire-eater, the bearded lady, the tall man. They were advertised as the 'freaks of nature'. I remember an overwhelming feeling of saddess for them. I don't think at that time I knew the word 'exploited,' but I felt distress that they were put on a stage and people laughed and pointed at them, then walked away with a bag of popcorn in their hands and a strange satisfying look on their faces.
I tell you this because I was recently told a story about an disgusting event that took place at a large popular 'super' store. An American hero, a soldier, was there shopping with his wife and kids, like any other family. He had answered the call, gone to Iraq to fight for our freedom, our freedom to walk into a store like this one and be able to find fresh produce, garden supplies, televisions, and welcome mats.
While protecting our shores, he had been in a humvee when it hit an IED. He suffered burns over 90% of his body. He had suffered excruciating pain, was put into an induced coma, and hospitalized for over two years. As he entered the store, people, stared at him, turned away from him, pointed at him, and children called him a 'freak' and were scared of him. One parent went to the store manager and asked them to do something. "Do Something! He is scaring my children."
There were multiple choices the manager could have made. He could have set an example and gone to this Amerian hero, extended his hand and said thank you for his service and sacrifice. He could have offered him and his family a gift card. He could have applauded and knelt down and kissed this guys boots for what he had sacrified for our freedom. But instead he asked him to leave 'his' store. He asked him to leave the store, because he was scaring children.
It is beyond my ability to even know how to string the words this morning to tell you how this disgusts and repels me. I leave the computer and try to think of the right words to say. I come back and still don't have them. Then perhaps, sometimes there just aren't any words to put together to convey a thought or an emotion or a stabbing pain. I wish I had been there. The outcome would have been different!
Men and women everyday are making the ultimate sacrifice in the global war on terror. They have without resistence gone into harm's way and their lives have been extinguished way too soon. I find it the ultimate tragedy that so many examples of the qualities we all admire in a human being, like courage, honor, and integrity, have been taken from us. And in many cases we are left with the 'store managers.'
Yesterday, Armed Forces Day, I invited a friend to help cook omelets and hashbrowns for wounded warriors and their families at the Warrior Family Support Center. We were honored to nourish one hundred and eight hungry souls, with both food and love. We fed amputees, soldiers with PTSD and TBI, and a woman with seven children and her husband in the hospital with little to no memory left, and soldiers having just left Iraq days before with 140 degrees and burning blowing sand and unending and unnerving fear.
We watched members of a local organization assemble wheelchairs with the assistance of our wounded warriors for amputees in third world countries on the patio of the Warrior Family Support Center. They were giving back. They were not looking for applause, only a cup of coffee. I was reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson when he wrote, "The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well."
We all thirst for grace. But sometimes it feels like catching lightening. Sometimes there are some who don't want to see or feel or care or witness or show compassion. Then there are those of us, like my friend with me yesterday, that feel that incredible depth and intensity of compassion and caring and feeling and ultimately passion.
I introduced my friend to one of my favorite soldiers, L., a bilateral leg amputee with half of his skull missing from an IED blast in Iraq. We sat in the beautifully appointed living room at the Fisher House and visited about his day, the weather, breakfast, and his beautiful wife. We introduced ourselves to a soldier, M. sitting next to him in a wing back chair. He was the physician's assistant, the medic that saved L's life. It didn't take long to sense the air permeated with the depth of bond, the attachment, between these two. They are closer than brothers, or fathers and sons. They are united in a way most of us will never know, experience, or understand. It is for a lifetime. It is that 'no matter what' bond.
It didn't take long for the conversation to progress to concerns for Amerian's that simply sweep this war, and these soldiers who gave all and will never be the same again, under the carpet. If they don't hear about it, see it, or experience it first hand it isn't real. But it is real. The pain is real, the ongoing nightmares are real, the fear of leaving your apartment is real, and their need of appreciation is real. They don't ask for much. Because of men like L. and M., we are able to go on about our daily lives. But what isn't understood is that there is a price that has been paid for us to be able to do that. A price that is way too dear.
My friend called me late last night to thank me 'for introducing him to my world.' Had it not been on the telephone, I would not have had to say anything. For he understands. And he knows I understand. He gets it and more to the point he cares. He has compassion and love for people and for our soldiers that allow us to live in a free country, where a medic takes leave to go check on the man whose life he saved. How often do we even take the time to check on a neighbor?
I was drained emotionally, as was my friend. He thanked me for what he felt was, truly 'the best day of his life.' And he thanked me for introducing him to L., "the tallest person I have ever met." I understood what he said. I understand his passion and he mine. There were no other words necessary. Yesterday on Armed Forces Day we witnessed over and over and over again the true, real and poignant price of freedom. We shall not forget.