I could tell by the way you stood in line, your knees slightly bent
to relieve the tension in your back, your body moving from
one leg to another, seeking a moment of relief… I knew you
were in pain, your gaze to the floor, as you tried to
control your frustration.
I sensed by your demeanor that you had lived a hard life. You looked
too thin, your were too restless.
Both lines were stuck, and you, with your small basket of a few items,
desperately tried to hold yourself together.
You looked at me and said, ‘It doesn’t matter what line I choose,
it always seems to be the wrong one.’
I replied, ‘you always have to go with your gut and hope for the best’.
You were distracted for a moment when a man
approached and started a conversation.
It was then I realized you are a veteran.
I overheard the names of many places in which our country had been
involved in conflict, such as Somalia and Fallujah.
You have been far and seen much.
The day before, while going thru a box of keepsakes,
I found the Time Magazine edition of the September 11, 2001 attack on our nation.
As always, tears flowed at the photos of people running,
ash on their faces so thick it looked like mud, the profound picture
of people jumping to escape being burned alive,
hoping for one more moment of fresh air and possibly a sensation
of flight, before the blackness.
Those memories, of our Connecticut community
with so many families impacted by the attack
in New York on that day, those wives who waited
at the train station for the person who never returned;
I was not one of those, but like everyone, I felt deeply
You had chosen a difficult career,
perhaps as a response to the attack
on 9/11. Perhaps it was your only choice.
You chose to be a warrior.
You told me about your squad’s encounter with an IED. How that device
had detonated behind you, how the others with you in your vehicle
were unrecognizable after the explosion. How that event
resulted in your physical and spiritual pain.
You saw then, the tears rolling down my face
and quickly added, “it’s ok, I was lucky.
The VA gave me a German Shepherd, trained by a
breeder in California to help soldiers with PTSD.”
You were so sensitive to the sadness that overwhelmed me, so humble at being
the one left standing.
I told you there are probably many people like me, who have no clue of the danger
soldiers, such as yourself face every day.
I told you I am ashamed of that, of not giving thought
to you in the far off regions of unrest that you serve.
Ashamed that I take for granted the freedom from fear
that most of the world cannot know.
A lifetime of experience separates us,
but on this afternoon, in a grocery store line,
as we waited to check out, we found common ground,
we connected as only a soulful warrior and a caring citizen can,
by listening with compassion, humility and gratefulness.
As you gathered your bag of groceries, we shook hands and exchanged names.
You thanked me for asking about your life. I thanked you for taking care of the freedoms I enjoy.
I was struck by the imprint of a stranger who crossed my path that day.
There are some whose stories are so profound, so difficult to imagine, yet
their humility is so powerful, it leaves an indelible impression of great character.
With respect and honor to all those who serve,
a grateful citizen