To the American Veteran:
Those two words never seem to be adequate. They do not hold enough space for the depth of gratitude I feel in my heart and deeper into my soul.
I’ve learned to recognize you from a distance because I have the true honor of sitting so closely with many of your brothers and sisters. My respect and gratitude grow as I am entrusted with the dark experiences and naked truths of war, as well as the residual anguish it sloppily leaves behind.
With each autobiography bestowed to me, my heart aches to heal whatever brokenness there may be. But I know that is not what you want. Warriors go into battle expecting scars and you should be proud of your scars. Just like a little child with a band aid, you want to tell the story of your scars. As the community you protect, that’s where we have failed you. We have failed you war after war.
We like to celebrate you when you return to the Land of the Free. It makes us feel good to wave our flags and shake your hands. We readily accept this ambience of American glory.
But our actions scream: please don’t tell us the truth about what we sent you to do. We are way too fragile to hear your reality. Please keep that to yourself – our children might get frightened or think that behavior is ok!
Yet, you humbly honor this silently requested censorship of your life as a warrior. You continue to covertly carry the often awkward and heavy rucksack filled with wounds and memories—the part of the uniform that will never be eliminated. It is you and you are it.
There are many of us who do not want you to hesitate to share your story. It is important to us because we know our daily freedoms are the result of your service and your sacrifices that have shaped your story.
When you thank a veteran for their service, show sincere gratitude with intentional curiosity and listening. They likely gave you years of their lives; give them 20 minutes to tell you pieces of their service story. Let us sit with them as they recount their truths.
© Rebecca G. Townsend 2016