You don’t know me, yet you sacrificed everything on my behalf. I’m in awe and left speechless at that level of courage - of selflessness - of love for your neighbor and your country. It leaves me with so many questions. Why? How did it all begin for you? Your deep, unwavering loyalty to this country and all of its sons and daughters. I’d love to know, to understand on some level why you decided to put everything on the line for me, for my family, for my neighbors and even for those that live in this country, abscond with its riches and liberties, yet don’t love it or respect it as you do.
Do you identify with the title of hero or do you cringe at the label; the idea of fighting for freedom and peace so fundamental, so foundational to your being? What did it feel like that first time you were deployed? Was there a moment when the enormity of your decision left you fearful or questioning it all? The feel of your pregnant wife in your arms when you hugged her goodbye? The last knowing look toward your husband as you let go of your child’s hand? The silent tears down your mother’s face as she fought to be strong in the impossible moment? The first time you saw your dad cry when he said goodbye to his baby girl in uniform?
It’s what we are all called to do; that is, to live our lives for others. We were never meant for a solitary, self-focused life, although the world seems to tell us differently. You got that message loud and clear. Somehow, you heard the cry of a nation in need of mending, of a constitution demanding defense of the truths first declared hundreds of years ago, of lives that deserve protection over persecution, respect over judgement and opportunity over debilitating close-minded rhetoric. You heard the cries of the oppressed over the shouting of those fighting for more than the plenty they have been given.
As our country welcomes you home, your body wrapped in the honor of the stars and stripes, the inadequacy of our spoken gratitude is glaring and falls empty when set among your many sacrifices. You fought for the love of your life that will now bring your first child into this world without you by her side. You fought for the parents who will never see you achieve your dream of a college degree. You fought for the best friend who now wonders how to move forward in the cloud of grief that now surrounds her. You fought for the girlfriend whose future must now be rewritten.
And for me. You fought for me. I need to fully absorb that; to let the vision of your coffin being carried off that plane disturb me, make me uncomfortable and sit in the truth that you didn’t have to go. You didn’t have to care. You didn’t have to fight. I don’t deserve the freedom you’ve now given your life for nor the honor of being a citizen of a country that fights against oppressive and evil rule. But I won’t take it for granted. It’s not much, but it’s something I can do to honor your memory - you, dear soldier - the man and woman who put me before you. Thank you.