Friday, November 28, 2008

Unexpected Encounter


**I'd like to introduce you all to Belle of the Blog - she is an awesome blogger who has great taste in music and a heart as big as Texas. She's one of my daily favorites and I know you will enjoy her too!**

When Kel invited me to write a guest post on Café Kel, my first reaction was, "Me? Really?" I was extremely flattered. Kel is one of my favorite bloggers. Her upbeat and optimistic attitude never fail to put a smile on my face, so of course, I was eager to participate in her Thanksgiving week blogfest! Then I read all the great posts that have preceded mine and started to freak out a little, wondering what to write. Queen of Mayhem was just hilarious and Jen wrote with such heart and humor about her experience as one of eight children. I am notoriously unfunny, so the thought of trying to write anything as remotely amusing as what either of them wrote completely humbled me.

As we drove to my mother-in-law's on Wednesday evening, I was racking my brain to try and figure out what to write . Naturally, given the time frame, I was thinking about a post on being thankful and going through all the things I'm grateful for in my life.

"www.scottdownes.com" My beautiful and amazing husband.
My kids who challenge me, thrill me, and bless me every day.
My friends who bring the gifts of humor and joy and comfort and support day in and day out. My dog Cooper, who is – paws down – the best dog on the planet, having saved my life at least once and maybe twice.

Then, in the midst of my reverie, I was interrupted by my almost two-year-old's incessant screaming. After about a half hour of trying to placate him with my cell phone, a Transformer, and some cool French-African music, we decided he was hungry and stopped at an Arby's somewhere between Atlanta and Ft. Benning. Scott, my husband, rushed inside with our older son, Brendan, so Brendan could use the restroom. I got the baby , Beckett, out of the car and headed inside. As I walked into the restaurant, I saw a man through the window who looked exactly like Santa Claus, minus the furry red suit, pipe, and bag of toys. The instant I saw him, I knew I would have an encounter with him, that somehow, for some reason, he would have something meaningful to say. I can't explain it, exactly; I just knew.

My second thought upon seeing this man – still before walking inside – was how annoying it must be to look like Santa Claus if you didn't like kids. I made a mental note not to mention to my kids that he looked like Santa just in case he was the type to get annoyed by it.

So, we all get inside, order some food, and I take the boys to stake out a table. As I was trying to wrangle my two rowdy children in the same direction, I suddenly realized a young man on crutches was trying to maneuver his way, soda cup in hand, back to the front of the restaurant for another drink. I tried to get the boys to one side so he could pass, but he kindly offered for us to go around him.

Brendan then chose a table on a raised section in the center of the restaurant with stairs leading up to it from two sides. Naturally. Beckett was screaming like a banshee and refusing to sit down, wanting, instead, to run in circles and climb up and down the stairs. When Scott finally got to the table with our food and drinks, I got everyone in seats and eating and sat down myself to eat. Within a few moments both boys were done and playing on the stairs while I gritted my teeth, thinking how annoying it must be to all the other patrons in the restaurant. I am very much a children are meant to be seen and not heard kind of person so any time my kids are unruly, i.e. all the freakin' time, I imagine that others are judging me.

In the midst of all this, the gentleman who looked like Santa came over and began talking to Beckett. He then told us that Beckett's Osh Kosh overalls reminded him of his sons and what they were like …thirty years ago. He was so sweet and kind and I could just feel this peace radiating from him. He asked us where we were headed and where we were from. Then, I found out that he and his family were heading home to Seneca, South Carolina. They had come from Ft. Benning, Georgia, where they had just picked up their son. Their son was home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan where he had been hit with a hand grenade.

As he told me about his son, I saw such intense love and pride and pain in his eyes that my own heart swelled with emotion. I asked if his son would be okay and the man responded, "He's here."

Because of our age and where we live, I haven't known anyone who has served in this war. I did have a couple of friends in Gulf War I, but I haven't known anyone personally who has been in this war, which by all accounts, is far worse and more intense in terms of actual war fare.

Hearing of an experience like that first hand made it all seem so real and so personal. Suddenly, I could imagine – almost feel – what it would be like to have a son or daughter fighting in a war. And then, of course, I knew that any of the piddly little things I was thinking of writing about paled in comparison to this…the deep and genuinely heartfelt gratitude I felt for the men and women who are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Japan and Germany and wherever else in the world we have troops stationed. It is almost impossible for me to comprehend putting my life on the line to defend a body of strangers collectively known as "my country."

These soldiers and Marines and airmen and sailors who go out into the world ready and willing to defend us have no choice over where they go or what mission they serve. Some joined up to make a better life for themselves while others joined out of a sense of patriotism and/or idyllic love of country. No matter how or why they chose to serve, for those fighting this war in Afghanistan and Iraq, they will be lucky to come home in once piece if at all. Yet, it is not just they who make a sacrifice. Their families – mothers and fathers and husbands and wives and children – make what might be an even greater sacrifice considering they have no say in the matter at all.

I think it's very easy for those of us who haven't been personally touched by this or any other war to take for granted the job our military personnel do day in and day out. Having it brought home to me in a chance encounter with a kind man who showed no bitterness at all over his son's fate, but rather expressed the simple joy of having his son home, really made me realize how much all of us have to be thankful for in knowing that there are men and women willing to sacrifice their lives to defend each and every one of us and the land in which we live.

This holiday season, take the time to contact someone serving overseas and let them know you appreciate them. My son's school along with many other elementary schools will be arranging for our servicemen and women to receive cards and letters. I'm sure that if you contact your local elementary school they'd be happy to have you participate. There is also Operation Dear Abby which has provided a means of sending care packages and letters to military personnel for many years.

Thank you all for your time. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season filled with love and light , joy and peace.

2 comments:

Jenn said...

What a neat experience!

the cubicle's backporch said...

I turned on the TV today and they had a show on called "Last Letters from Soldiers" or something like that. It had families on there reading the last letters they received from their soldiers before they were killed. It was horribly sad and reminded me how much we owe the past and present soldiers for our way of life today.