I've mentioned several times that we spent half a day last week at the VA Hospital up in Temple, TX last week. Don't remember me mentioning that? Then you were probably laughing too hard at my story about getting hit on to rememeber that it all started with a trip to the VA Hospital.
As anxious as I was about going to the hospital, I was relieved to find out that the VA hospital is really no different than other hospitals. Yes, there were injuries and things that I would rather not see…and who really enjoys the smells associated with hospitals?...so there were things that were unpleasant. But more than all of those things combined, I was shocked to discover that I was filled with an almost shameful amount of pride. I was surrounded by a gathering of people who had served their country in some capacity and some of them had paid a heavy price for it. But that heavy price guarantees that I sleep safe in my bed each night, with the freedom to make choices that people in other countries don’t get to make.
Yes, ever since becoming involved with someone in the military these things have meant more to me than they used to. But it really hit home last week. I’m not really sure why…I mean, I live with and deal with Brent’s injuries and wounds from war on a daily basis. This should be nothing new to me…but it was. There was a brotherhood about the place, a community that although I’m not technically a member of, I have joined through marriage.
I don’t think that I’m doing a very good job of explaining myself…
You see, I wasn’t with Brent when he was an active Marine. I met him years after his experiences in the second Gulf War, and I deal with those issues on a daily basis, like I have said before. I don’t know what it’s like to kiss him goodbye and not know if he’ll be returning to me at all, much less in one piece. I don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant with your spouse thousands of miles away, knowing that they’ll miss the birth of their child, or with the knowledge that they’ll miss those first few years that children grow and change so much. I don’t know what any of that is like.
I do know what it’s like to live with the nightmares – the scenes that are burned into your brain whether you want them there or not. The constant pain that comes after you’ve been injured in a war that you live with on a daily basis that I can only begin to imagine. The terror that can grip you when you’re first awakened in an abrupt way. The sense of loss that you experience when another member of your unit chooses to take his own life instead of living in the present any longer. I know what all of that is like. I know (somewhat) how to handle that.
His injuries were of the extent that Brent was not able to stay active in the Marines, which I have no doubt he would have done had he been given that choice. So he’s now in a different group – the Veteran. And even more defined than that, he’s a Disabled Veteran. He’s had many honors and acknowledgements through the course of his career with the Marines but I wonder if it’s this status of a Veteran that means the most to him? He lives with the knowledge that he served his country, fought for our freedom, and made a huge sacrifice in order to do these things. I know that he would have made the same choices that he did even knowing the outcome…knowing that he would be injured and disabled…he would do it all over again the exact same way. Because he sees things differently. He doesn’t see it as he was disfigured…he sees that he was able to keep his foot and not have an amputation. He doesn’t see it that he gave up so much to do these things…he sees that this is what you do for your country and for the beliefs that you have.
And being in the VA Hospital last week, these thoughts really hit home with me. I saw many other Veterans who were not as lucky as Brent. They did lose limbs and were terribly scarred in many ways, remembering that not all scars are visible and physical in nature. But what I saw in them all, as I sat in the waiting room watching them all was a sense of pride. They were proud to have served their country. They were proud to make the sacrifices that they made. They knew that they were in a select group of people that were willing to do it all in the first place. And just like Brent, I can only imagine that they would do it all over again in a heartbeat, if given the opportunity.
What a great honor to be in the same room with men and women of that caliber. I was truly touched.
So this Memorial Day, I would ask that you take a minute to reflect on what it means to be a Veteran. Maybe you have Veterans in your family that need to be honored/remembered on this special day. Or maybe you have active military in your circle of family/friends. Bless them. Think of them often with love in your heart. They need it, along with their loved ones.
So go out there and give a Veteran a hug…I know that I will!