On Gratitude and the Price of Freedom

Thank a veteran? No, I’m afraid I can’t.

At work the other day we had an Independence Day celebration combined with a day to recognize those among our coworkers who were veterans of the US armed forces. We were given the opportunity to say “thank you” and write our thoughts on an index sized card.

Though I am privileged to work with a number of former (and in some cases, current) members of all branches of the US military, I didn’t have anything to say on that day. Not because I’m ungrateful, or don’t respect the sacrifices these men and women have made. I just didn’t have the words.

It can be all too easy to get caught up in daily life, pursuing a career, an education, a family. Pursuing faith, the meaning of life, happiness. In shuttling children to school, going to work, paying bills, or folding the laundry. In doing all the things we have to do every day. Taking time for a simple kindness, is too often overlooked.

Then I look around and I see the pictures and read the stories of mothers and fathers hugging their children fiercely as they say good-bye for an extended absence. Of the parent left behind to do the work of two alone. Of parents, sisters and brothers rejoicing at their loved one’s safe return.

And I look at my own children and I think I could never be that brave. I don’t have that kind of courage. What amazing strength someone must have to take on the mantle of the armed forces. As I think of all of these things, I realize something else. Words are not enough. My gratitude feels empty and inadequate.

Instead, for your wife you left home alone, maybe I could be her friend. For your children, maybe I could be a source of compassion and encouragement while you’re away. For your parents, maybe I could be a neighbor, willing to listen or lend a helping hand.

Thank you can never be enough. But I will pray for you. I will pray for your safety while you are deployed. I will pray for your safe return. I will pray for your family to remain strong in your absence. Above all, I will pray for peace.

I will continue to pray for you on your return home. I will pray for you as you recover from injuries sustained. I will pray for you as you adjust back to civilian life. I will pray for you as you battle the demons left over from combat. Above all, I will pray for peace.

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