No fewer parades for veterans either. Today is veteran's day. I celebrated it the way I have every year, by doing what I would do any other day but with feeling - the feeling of guilt. I know I SHOULD do something more significant, or get more involved somehow to honor those relatives or friends for whom this day is named. I am thankful for the sacrifice and have said so on Facebook (so it MUST be true). But lacking any direct, current, personal involvement in the military made it hard for me to be intimately involved in the concept of sacrifice for my freedom. Of course, I have seen all the shows I was supposed to see, was moved to tears as the vets passed me in the parade, and screamed at July 4th celebrations when it was time to honor the service men and women. But war and those who must fight it, was an abstract and painful thing to consider, let alone pondering how people had made this sacrifice for MY freedom. I confess that I don't like to think about it for too long. This idea goes in the closet of my brain where I keep the Feed the Children images and the impulse to contemplate the life my steak had before it turned pink and shrinkwrapped for my enjoyment. There is only so much I can do, after all. Why upset myself thinking too much about it...?
I didn't go to any parades today. I did something much more meaningful. I went to Applebee's. It just happened to be "free entre for veteran's" day. I knew that because the hostess asked me if I was one. It was the first time in my adult life I wished that I had served in the military. As I surveyed the room full of everyday G.I. Joes, just minding their own business...I was profoundly moved. Directly across from me sat a man about 60 years old, with a face full of scars and an eye that did not open all the way. He was laughing and talking with a tired looking spouse. In the booth next to me sat a heavy set man in his late 60's with a cane. He and his spouse sat quietly through their entire meal. He seemed to be "somewhere else". Two young men entered who were in perfect physical shape, but unlike the men and women of the same age carrying on at the bar, these men were serious and seemed to be a little hyper vigilant as they surveyed the room, instructed the hostess that there were 2 children, and volunteered before being asked, that there were no special menus required for them. An African American in his early 70's arrived, was asked if he was a veteran and proudly declared that he was then quickly added "I have my ID!". This was not necessary. The honor system was in place (which seems redundant to describe anything connected to these individuals).
I saw something in the faces, body language, and even the snippets of conversation, which I would have missed if it had just marched by me in a parade, or was sealed in the safety of my TV screen with a remote at the ready should it prove too intense. I may have missed it tonight, if I had not known what they all had in common. But looking around that room, I FELT in a profound way, just how much they carried from what they endured on my behalf to grant me the right to live cluelessy if I so chose. I realized that guilt was a lazy first choice emotion I had indulged. Guilt is a poor substitute for the respect and gratitude I felt tonight for the people still physically or emotionally holding the impact of their time spent in service of our country. I'm glad I got the chance to see them and perceive their rank far above the average Joe diners. I am glad they are acknowledged on Veteran's day but there needs to be more done to bring them to the attention of oblivious civillians like me. Maybe instead of parades, the former vets should all wear medals so that it would be easier to admire and thank them every day for the rest of their lives.