It was a black-sand volcanic beach in Guatemala. The waves were intense and the undertow more than even our YMCA-swimming-class-honed skills could handle, so we spent most of our days in the pool, our kiddos wearing themselves out and never wanting to leave the water, though every finger and toe was completely pruney and blistered.
We had traveled from our home in Antigua, Guatemala to the coast for a little R&R. It was a gift from our friends to stay at a lovely resort and just unplug for a few days. Each night we dried the kids off, threw on something more than a swimsuit and tromped across the exotic-flower-speckled lawns, gasping and gaping along the way at the basilisk lizards criss-crossing the grass all around us. We were always the earliest customers at the hotel's restaurant for the buffet dinner, and we were lucky if all three children made it through the meal awake enough to walk back to our room.
One evening, we noticed a table full of American men near us. My husband graduated from the Air Force Academy and spent several years as an Air Force officer, so he can pretty much spot a military man or woman from 80 paces. He knew immediately that these men were military. We surreptitiously watched them as we carried our plates back and forth from the buffet, but we never said anything to them and didn't see them again until the day we checked out, when they happened to be checking out at the same time. My husband approached them, made small talk and eventually mentioned that he'd been in the Air Force. True to military form, they ribbed him, telling him they were sorry he'd been in that particular branch, and then they mentioned that they were in Guatemala for some training, although they were very vague, revealing nothing specific about their time there. There was more chit chat and, as we were leaving the lobby, my husband and son thanked the men for their service to our country. It was only then that one of the soldiers turned to us and shared that their duty had cost them each greatly. He told us that most, if not all, of the men in his group were divorced or on the brink of divorce. He explained that they were gone from their families for most of the year, missing every major event that a family builds its memory upon.
We left that hotel lobby sobered and humbled. We left that lobby newly aware of just how much our military sacrifices for us. We left that lobby reminded that the United States, despite all of the flaws that are daily and hourly and incessantly pointed out to us by the talking heads, is a country that has always been known as a nation willing to sacrifice for the greater good. There is nothing like living in another country to give you perspective on just how unique America is. We are willing to fight for those who don't have a voice, to defend the weak, to pursue justice to its end....sometimes to a fault....and why? Because sometimes individual people sacrifice their rights and thousands upon thousands and over and over, even lay down their lives for the greater good.
It took living in a "survival-driven" society, a society in which too many people HAVE to fight for their daily bread, a society in which basic human needs like food and a place to sleep are very real worries to teach us just how inordinately blessed we as Americans are. Even my poorest, change-counting-hoping-my-checks-clear days are rich compared to the devastating needs I have witnessed in another land. Even my gripes with my government fade when I remember that I can walk into a polling place and vote, free from any fear of violence against me, free from any restrictions on my vote as a female.
Giving up something dear to me for someone else to receive is not natural. It's not convenient. But oh how grateful I am to those who didn't stop to consider whether or not my life was worth theirs. They gave...all of it....the most precious and sacred gift anyone could give. So today, as we honor our veterans, I receive that gift with humility. I receive that gift with the promise to make sure my children know why that gift was given. I receive that gift with the knowledge that, though I may never agree with the shrouded political reasoning that brought about the circumstances of that gift, I understand its honor, its ultimate surrender, its beautiful power.
Thank you, veterans. Our debt is not repayable. All we can do is thank you. And we do.
"None of you should look out just for your own good. You should also look out for the good of others" (Phil. 2:4 NIRV)