The Weight of Veteran’s Day
Veterans Day is a difficult holiday for me. I like it because I know it means so much to many of our troops, especially the younger troops who are still developing their identity within the armed forces. It is a day where we can show our gratitude for all our fellow citizens who serve to protect our nation.
But as a veteran myself, I never want to celebrate Veteran’s Day. I joined the military due to my personal desire to contribute and serve my country in that manner. To me, it is such a personal choice that I don’t want anyone to thank me for it (especially if they don’t know me or why I chose to serve). Plus, I’m notoriously bad at accepting complements.
This is only important because it creates a personal conflict for my family: how do I teach them to respect the sacrifice of our veterans but simultaneously want to ignore it for my own career?
I don’t have a good answer for this yet, but maybe I have escaped the problem altogether. Last week Emmett’s school had a Veteran’s Day ceremony and this was his response, as beautifully typed by Kristie (who is an exceptional writer, and you can read her old blog here if you want a laugh).
Today, for the first time this week, I really felt joy, love, and hope. Not because of something I read online or someone agreeing with me. My hope came from a six year old kid in batman underwear. It sounds exaggerated for sappy effect, but I swear it’s all true. Those of you who know Emmett well know that I’m not making a single word of it up.
We had a great dinner out with our family friend, who is a veteran, and whom Emmett absolutely adores. He chattered nonstop at all of us with his usual humor and enthusiasm. When we got home he, unprompted, told David “Thank you for being a veteran.” Very sweet, and so sincere. Hit me right in the feels. But wait…there’s more.
He still seemed just kind of sincere and vulnerable and a little less vibrantly exuberant at bedtime, so I put him in my bed to sleep instead of his. Occasionally, they need that extra snuggle time on the weekend, and also I adore having him sprawled out and hogging my side of the bed and mashing his little face against mine to breathe at me all night, even though it keeps me awake.
He stalled a bit, and then said “mommy? Can I tell you something?” I crawled into bed told him “sure.” He was hesitant, like he was admitting to something embarrassing. Then he said “today at school, they played a song about America on the big projector…and I…I happy-cried a little because my heart got full.” I was stunned, hugged him, and said “I think that’s wonderful, buddy. It’s good to love your country and feel those things in your heart. It’s okay to happy cry.” He said “okay, but…I also sad cried because it said…it said…’Men and women who died for us.”
Then he crumpled into me, crying his little heart out because he cares that much. And I cried a little with him, keeping my head above his so he wouldn’t see my tears and get even sadder. And I talked with him about freedom and war and protecting what is good and the people who need protection. We talked about how there are sometimes bad guys, and the job of the good guys is sometimes dangerous. And that it’s important to honor them for putting themselves in danger to save the families who are being hurt and the families in America. About how sometimes, good people die on both sides of a battle, and that’s why we have to try our hardest to be kind and avoid fighting whenever we can. That war is a terrible, imprecise thing. But that sometimes, we still have wars and we should be sad about that when it happens, because it’s never good. I told him he was an incredible kid with a big heart, and that the army guys like his uncle Toro and uncle Erik have gone to far away places to keep him safe, and that we will always protect him so he shouldn’t worry.
He stopped crying and said “that’s why I told people ‘thank you’ today.” Then he said, “not just army people but also Air Force people. Because one guy there was in the Air Force and he had a broken arm and that made me sad for him because it might be from a bullet hitting him.” He’s nothing if not invested in briefing people on the minute details of a story.
It is to date the most powerful, meaningful, emotionally gut-wrenchingly patriotic moment I’ve ever had. It was a moment that pulled me out of the righteous anger and fear for humanity after the toughest week I’ve ever had. And it was with a tiny little boy in tiny little superhero briefs. God made him with a sensitive heart, and he’s exactly what need to thaw my own.
I know the next generation is going to be full of good guys. We’re raising them right now. We’re in charge of teaching them to care. Moreover, they’re teaching us to care. We just have to keep listening to them and working at it.