Go on, say it
It was a little surreal. I was standing amid a swarm of boys who were stuffing their faces with cupcakes as they ran after each other and a busted soccer ball. They had just finished a ropes course followed by pizza as part of an 8-year-old’s birthday celebration. All of that is par for the course, but what happened next gave me chills. Two young servicemen who were part of a large military group using the course for training, approached me and the two other adults at the party. They locked eyes with each of us, shook our hands, and genuinely thanked us for the leftover slices of pizza we shared with them.
I felt a bit guilty as I didn’t have anything to do with the buying or the sharing. I was just a tag-along parent who wanted to try out the course, and the hosts graciously welcomed me and son number two into the fun. But my guilt was blown away by admiration, respect, and pride that swelled within me. These two soldiers took the time, made the effort, and felt the need to personally say thank you for the meager slice of pizza they had each enjoyed. They, who are preparing to defend our country, our freedom, my family, were thanking us for a small ration of food. And, went out of their way to do so.
All I could do was earnestly thank them for their service. It didn’t feel like enough though. As those young men walked back to their group I thought about their grace and bravery. I thought about how they could have yelled thank you across the field or simply enjoyed the leftovers as the other troop members had. I don’t think anyone expected any response at all. I thought about their mothers and the terrific jobs they did instilling manners and respect in their sons. I hoped my children would behave with such class and dignity.
I was—and still am—in awe of them. It didn’t take much, but they left an incredible impression for several reasons. It was such a simple gesture, yet enormous at the same time. It made me think about the sacrifices our servicemen and women, police officers, firefighters, and EMTs make to protect and care for us. They continuously put their lives on the line for our safety and freedoms, yet I shamefully don’t acknowledge that sacrifice. I don’t walk across the field or room to say thank you. I don’t look members of the military in the eyes with gratitude when I see them at the store or at a restaurant. I rush past, on to my next errand or corralling the kids.
Those two young men showed me how easy it is to show real gratitude and what an impact it can have. They also put in perspective that if they can say thank you for a piece of leftover pizza, I could be vocalizing my appreciation much more often. I most certainly should be recognizing the efforts of all of our true heroes for their bravery, selflessness, and hard work on this upcoming Memorial Day and always. I’m guessing it won’t take much—eye-contact, a nod, a smile, or a handshake and thank you will do quite nicely. To all of our present and past servicemen and women, a heartfelt, “Thank you.”
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward