NOTE: In commemoration of Veterans Day November 11th, I’m pleased to republish this post, which originally appeared in April. A big, heartfelt salute to our men and women in uniform.
So, one Saturday, Summer 2014, I go to pick a gentleman up at the airport and drive him home. It turned out to be one of my most unforgettable trips.
Now, usually, unless it happens to be someone famous, or someone I’ve driven before, I don’t know anything about the people I pick up, other than the name and where we’re going. Which can sometimes be problematic, by the way; once, I was picking up a client whose first name was Erin.
His first name.
He walked right up to me and said he was my passenger. For a second, I didn’t believe him. Once he convinced me, and I apologized, he told me it was okay, he was used to it. I drove him a few more times after that, so I guess I didn’t make him mad.
Sure would’ve liked a heads-up before that first time, though!
Anyway, I go to meet this fellow at the airport, and I wait for him at the baggage claim with my sign bearing his name. He comes up to greet me; he’s a younger man, in a t-shirt, shorts, sunglasses and backwards cap.
Since he’s in shorts, I can see he’s got a prosthetic right leg below the knee. His left leg, arm and hand are badly disfigured. The sunglasses are pretty large, and I wonder if they cover any additional scars around the eyes. (They don’t, it turns out.)
I assume he must have sustained these wounds in war. I don’t ask.
We get his baggage, go out to the car, and head for his house. We talk about the heat (naturally) and other mundane subjects. He tells me he’s back in town for a Wounded Warriors event the next day. He tells me about the time he served over in Iraq, explaining his physical condition by simply saying, “Obviously, I had a bad day at work.”
I’m suddenly clueless on how to respond in that moment. I mean, what can you say? I simply muster a half-hearted, “Yeah.” I don’t ask for details, and he doesn’t volunteer any; I figure, if he wants to talk about it, he will. Maybe that’s wrong; I really don’t know.
We move on to other subjects: the anticipation of football season, which college teams we think will do well, the current state of the Dallas Cowboys, the gratitude and relief that Jerry Jones didn’t draft Johnny Manziel. (And has that man’s life turned into a tragic tale?)
Finally, we reach his house. I let him out of the car and get his baggage. He gives me a tip and says,”Thanks for driving me.”
“It was my honor, sir,” I said. “Thank you for your service and your sacrifice.”
And you know what he says to me then?
“Hey, man, you’re worth it.”
That stayed with me the rest of that day, and it stays with me still. I couldn’t stop thinking about what he told me.
I’m worth his leg getting blown off? I’m worth all the other wounds he sustained? I’m worth all the pain he’s gone through, physically, mentally and emotionally since that “bad day at work”?
I’m worth it?
That was, without a doubt, one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I guarantee you, I won’t ever forget it.
It really is astonishing, the way life sometimes works. Had I not lost my machinist job, I’d probably never have become a chauffeur, and never met this outstanding soldier, this outstanding man.
And I would not have that remarkable encounter, which so impacted my life from that day forward.
Sometimes, the thought comes to my mind: while we’re busy running around, doing our jobs, socializing with friends, playing with the kids, planning and taking trips, etc., there are men and women in uniform, actively defending our country. They have volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way to protect you and me. They do extensive, multiple tours of duty due to the troops being stretched so thin. They return home; some wounded, some suicidal, some in flag-draped caskets.
And many come home to this: No job, neglected medical needs, homelessness, untreated psychological trauma, uncomfortable stares from passers-by.
How often do they make it into your thoughts?
However you may feel about war, and those who wage it, and the reasons they do so, you cannot ignore the dedicated service and immeasurable sacrifice of the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen who go and engage in the battles the rest of us are unable or unwilling to fight.
I salute them all. Bless you, you incredibly brave men and women, and come home safely, soon.
And may your home country pledge anew to take care of you when you return; medically, vocationally, and any other way you need.
You absolutely deserve it.
Note: If you want to read more about this remarkable man I met that Saturday, and what he’s doing now to help fellow veterans, his name is Corporal Jacob Schick, USMC (Ret.). Read his story, or hear him tell it on YouTube, and be truly inspired. (Also, check out http://www.honorcouragecommitment.org)