This is a picture of my dad flying an airplane for the United States Air Force.
He is my hero.
"Oh, Courtney?" The old man sat at the end of the bench and rose his finger to flag my attention, "May I ask if you've got a military discount?"
"We do!" The excitement leapt from my body. "Do you mind if I see your military I.D.?" Before I even finished asking the question, he searched excitedly through his wallet.
"Do you know what it's like in Africa, sweetheart?" I shook my head, not paying much attention to the dates on his card. "There are no seasons. I would know. I spend ten months of my year away from this pretty thing, and in that country," he said, pointing to his wife who looked as frail as he did. She smiled at him with a shy tilt of her head.
"Oh? And what do you do over there?" I wondered. I wanted to sit down and hear all of his stories, wanted to ask him about my grandpa, who he knew growing up, wanted to hear his theories on life. He pointed a sharp eye towards the woman across the table.
"I work for the government," he winked at me as she looked away.
"While you're handling the check, dear, I'd like to find the restroom," I pointed her towards it and she was on her way. Reaching across the table to grab the dirty plates, the man grabbed my hand. I felt the wrinkles in his skin and the warm pulse under his palm.
"I couldn't tell you this while she was here, doll," I released the plate from my fingers and he grasped hold of my hand a little tighter, "she's sensitive to these things, and I didn't go into much detail, but I'm in a branch of the military, one that trains a new generation of soldiers for combat. That's what I'm doing in Africa." Suddenly, his face got more serious and his eyes glistened a marble glow under the table's light. It seemed we were the only ones in the room as everything around me went quiet. "There are people in this world who would like to take away the things that we hold so dear, and I refuse to stop defending those things." Immediately, moisture began collecting in my own eyes and they, too, glistened under the warm light above us. "This country should remain free." He finished. His eyes were kind. I watched a smile perk on his mouth. I nodded, agreeing, as tears fell violently down my face.
"Thank you," I whispered, "thank you for keeping me safe," I said, trying to remove any evidence of my emotional outburst. He lowered his head in a reverent bow and tightened an old baseball cap around his head. His wife came back and the two of them gathered their things.
"That was the best steak I've had in years," he put his hand on my shoulder as the two of them headed for the door. "They don't have steak where I spend my time." He winked at me, again, as a sort of silent sentiment that everything would be alright, and I trusted him. I trusted him with my life.
As I tallied the orders at the end of the night, I noticed that the old man's total after the discount was a measly three dollars from a 40$ total.
This man has spent more time defending my country in his lifetime than he has spent not defending it, and all I can do for him is take $1.50 from his two steaks?
This is me shouting from the rooftops that I promise to always be on his side, the side of the armed forces. I will lend support, volunteer wherever I can, send care packages in the mail, and I'll pray for them all from the home front every day. This is also me letting both of my grandfathers, my uncle, my father, and my two older brothers know how proud I am to be a part of them. I am so proud to come from a military family and am so incredibly thankful for the freedoms that each of them protect daily.
God blessed this fine country of ours with brave, capable men and women, and he continues to do so because he knows how much we need them. There is power in that. The kind of power that sends chills like electric shock waves down my neck. I am so grateful for these people.
For me, nothing brings more joy or prompts the water works faster than watching videos of soldiers surprising their loved ones. I lose it every time. Here is one of my favorites.
Happy Memorial Day!