Friday, November 11, 2011

embrace the uncomfortable.

It's unavoidable.
Any time I travel in uniform, most of the time when I go out to eat in uniform, and definitely if I'm shopping in uniform for some reason, it's as if I send a flare up to whatever ceiling I'm under that says "come talk to me, veterans." Vets are not known for their timing or social graces. Their most common stereotype is "incessant story tellers" or "emotionally unstable." This is true. Some of the most relentless people I've ever met were the retired military folk that populate airports, restaurants and are sparsely scattered throughout wherever I'm living at the time. That and realtors -- maybe it's the commission, or maybe the entrance battery exam to sell homes is a test of how much love you can force on every person you know. 
Like any small child, a human that demands your undivided attention can be exhausting. I get that. But what is the redeeming grace that allows you to more than just "tolerate" a child hungry for your eye contact and heedfulness? Love. Love, and you realize that they need you.
That is what your veteran needs. 
For you to love them and realize that they need you. They need your appreciation, your attention, your listening heart and your eye contact, like any small child. I do not imply that they're small children, however. In fact if anything, guaranteed those veterans that would approach you, a total stranger, and want to create from scratch an informal relationship, has had a sizable portion of his childhood taken away from him.

From 17-22 much of our nation spends it's time creating positive memories. 
Whether or not you go to college or stay home and drive too fast, drink too much, date the wrong people, spend too much or take a dangerously unintelligent vacation for five days at the last minute to a ludicrously far away place -- at those ages we were making positive memories. Albeit, not necessarily intelligent ones. 
Many, many veterans at that age were serving overseas in a war taking place on foreign soil. There are few alones like being apart from your family on a holiday, and many vets know that first-hand all too well. 
Those that fought in WWII or Korea have mostly passed on, those that haven't are more than likely not out and about very much. Many if not most though, saw things that cannot be shown on even HBO or Showtime, and never will be, they're that horrific. Those were violent, personal wars.
Those vets that were in Vietnam were very likely to have been invited to attend against their will. Coming home from being overseas for a year or more, they returned home to protests, being spat on and outright assaulted. So they traveled in civillian clothes. 

How much would you trade the last few years of your childhood for? Most vets traded theirs for less-than good pay. The moment they stepped off the plane in whatever foreign nation we were fighting in, they lost the remaining years of joy and traded it in for experiencing things you probably never will. 
Not all vets, but many, many of them. And chances are, if you're socially uncomfortable with the veteran talking to you, he was one of those.
Instead of dismissing a dirty old man wearing far too many accessories and articles of clothing that broadcast he served in the military at one time or another, what if you thank them?
If you're a daring, adventurous, rebellious soul with blatant disregard for social safety, ask the vet a question that says sincerely "I care about you" or "I don't know you, but you seem interesting and I'd at least like to meet you." 
Look at a badge and ask where or how he got it. 
"What was the 34th Artillery?"
Ask him how long it's been since he was in. He'll laugh, but it will get the conversation rolling.

I promise you, whatever you show up to a little bit late for today or in the future, if you smile and quietly explain yourself by saying "I'm sorry, I got caught up talking to a Mr. (insert name), who wanted to tell me about his 4 years serving in (insert place). Did you know that he (insert fact about the person)?" you'll be just fine. 
Sincerely caring about someone you've never met before can be unsettling, but to truly listen and be interested someone who gave some of the most exciting years of their life away in exchange for serving our nation is one of the best way to truly love them.

Ephesians 4:2 "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bear with one another in love."
1 John 3:18 "Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in action and in truth."

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