Gratitude and expressing it

Have you seen the Gratitude Campaign video?  It offers everyone a simple, graceful way to show their appreciation for the service of our armed forces.  If you see a service member, you can offer them this elegant gesture that lets them know that you are grateful for their efforts.  It’s very moving.  When my friend, Cyn Mobley, posted it on her Facebook page a few months ago, I promptly cannibalized it and re-posted it on my own.  And I vowed to perform this gesture the next time I saw a serviceman.

I hadn’t had this opportunity until just this afternoon, when I was flying through Kroger with a few items necessary for dinner.  I was zooming through the meat section and noticed a camo’d serviceman, blonde, about my age or maybe a few years younger.  Perfect opportunity to offer this simple and heartfelt gesture of thanks–but I couldn’t remember exactly how to make the hand gesture, and I didn’t want to screw it up really badly and inadvertently offend him in sign language.

Instead, I leaned over and said “Hey, thanks for your service.”  There was a moment of nervousness (God forbid I stuttered or messed THAT up somehow), and then he turned and thanked me for thanking him.  I smiled and moved on, but was surprised at the rush of emotion, the prickle of tears behind my eyelids, that I felt as I walked away.  I AM truly grateful for his service, and for the service of all our brothers and sisters in arms.

I recall too vividly watching the September 11, 2001 coverage of the attacks on the Towers on television, shocked and clinging to the Pumpkin while tears rolled down my face.  The vicious, vengeful harpy who lives inside me came out then, and wanted to make a dimple in the Earth out of the general geographic region from which these perpetrators sprang.  But it isn’t as cut and dried as all that, and I realized that not everyone in the Middle East was behind the attacks.

I don’t approve of the war in Iraq.  I think it was ill-advised and impetuous to invade, and that it will never truly end, and that it contributes to the United States’ image as a bully of other nations.  I recall distinctly the hour and the minute of the day when George W. Bush announced that we’d be slapping back at the terrorists who knocked down the World Trade Center, and I said as much, then.

But I understand the spirit of the men and women who enlisted out of their desire to help, to fight back, to DO SOMETHING about this assault on our nation.   Years earlier, I became a volunteer firefighter out of a desire to help people, and that desire is a stronger motivator than one can ever imagine.  There were enjoyable aspects of being a firefighter that balanced out the danger and hard work, mind you.  I didn’t act completely out of altruistic goodness, but that was a big part of it.

My father-in-law, whose life-long career in law enforcement often put him in the path of danger, told me once that he thought I was nuts to run into a burning building.  I countered with the thought that any cop dealing with people on a daily basis had to be a little crazy–people in general can be evil, sneaky and vengeful, and therefore as a law enforcement officer, I would have to approach every traffic stop and domestic complaint with my weapon drawn, locked and loaded.  Fire isn’t evil and vengeful, it just IS, and therefore it’s a lot less frightening to me than human nature.

But I know that whatever he and I might have experienced, it is peanuts compared to what our armed servicemen and women endure in a combat zone.  There’s no hot-bath-and-a-beer-to-make-it-all-better at the end of their days.  I was born in 1968, many years after my father returned home from his combat service in World War II.  Even as a child I watched him twitch and groan through nightmares when he fell asleep on the sofa in the evening, and although he didn’t talk about it ever, I knew that he was back on the battlefield in his dreams.

So this simple gesture of thanks is the very least we can offer our returning servicemen and women.  Don’t be shy or hold back when you see someone in uniform!  Who can fault you for saying “thank you”?

Comments are closed.