I was privileged to be in some schools this past week, working with educators passionate about their work with kids. At the end of one lesson, one of the educators said something like, "Don't forget it's Memorial Day weekend. Be sure to thank any soliders you see."
It was both the sentiment and the tone that struck me. It was almost casual, like "Have a nice weekend and don't forget to study for your tests." But there was nothing else around the statement. There had been nothing about Memorial Day in the lesson. Nothing. The statement didn't seem to be an afterthought so I could assume they had been talking about Memorial Day earlier in the week, though there is no way of knowing for sure.
Still, the tone and the sentiment echoed in my head. And it clanged loudly when I got back to O'Hare on Friday. I saw a family in matching "Welcome Home!" T-shirts anxiously peering through the entry doors to baggage claim. I saw a woman hug a younger woman in uniform; a mother welcoming home a daughter? Perhaps. The hug was mammoth: affirming, grateful, happy, loving, proud.
I saw a tall soldier standing alone near baggage claim, checking his phone. Why does it take such courage to walk up to a stranger to say "thank you," and yet it took me a few seconds. Would I be intruding? Would he think I was a little nuts? But it wasn't really all that hard even though it made me absurdly emotional.
I simply walked up to him, stuck out my hand, looked him straight in the eyes and said, "Thank you" as I shook his hand. He said "You're welcome" as a slight smile flickered across his lips. I don't know if that made his day, but it sure made a difference to mine as I thought about why I really am thankful for whatever he does, whether it's at the front line or at some desk. He serves our country in a way I cannot.
I don't agree with all of the conflicts in which my country is currently engaged, but that sure doesn't mean that I'm not grateful for the men and women who put their lives on the line so I can sit comfortably at home and complain about the some of the ridiculous decisions our politicians make. It may seem corny, but those soldiers continue to be one of the reasons we are "the land of the free" even if we don't always seem to be "the home of the brave."
So, it's Memorial Day weekend. If you get the chance, be sure to thank any solider you see.