Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Conversation

I was at the Naperville train station this morning going through one of my waiting-for-the-train routines of reading the headlines through the glass of the newspaper vending machines. The Chicago Sun Times and The Naperville Sun both displayed front page pictures of the flag display at rotary hill: 2009 flags on the hill for Veteran's Day 2009. As I looked at the beautiful photos, a stranger's voice behind me spoke up.

"Have you been over to see it yet?"

I glanced up and saw a young man, probably around my age or just past thirty at the oldest. I hesitate to admit it but he looked like my typical image of a young Naperville resident. His hair was shaggy and spiked with gel in the I-meant-to-look-messy way that seems popular now and his clothes appeared a combination of Abercrombie and Gap though no conspicuous labels were shown.

"No," I replied to his question. "But some of my friends visited and I saw some great pictures."

"It's amazing," he said plainly. There was no trace of awe or inspiration in his voice, it was as though he was stating simple fact, not opinion.

"They did a great job with it," I said gesturing to the pictures on the papers in front of us. "It's a really...powerful gesture." I searched for the right word, but 'powerful' seemed to convey the imagery created best.

"You got that right," he concurred. "Five years in the marines and I was moved to tears."

In a stroke of awful timing, he conveyed this last fact to me just as he turned to walk toward the train that pulled up behind us.

"Thank you!" I called after him, but aside from a brief nod of his head he had nothing more to add to our exchange. I hope sincerity echoed in my voice; sincerity, pride, and honor.

A brief pang of shame struck me as he walked away. I never would have guessed this young commuter was a veteran. If he were in full uniform I may have saluted, applauded or even bought him a morning coffee to show my appreciation. All I could do though was call out my hurried thanks over the shrieks and hiss of the train's brakes. I had inadvertently pegged him in my mind as a Naperville yuppie, the usual guy who elbows in front of me to get on the train first or pointedly ignores the opportunity to offer his seat when I'm standing in heels after a long day: the kind of commuter that I sometimes think should be a little nicer or a little kinder, the person I think owes me something ...when in fact I owe him so many of the freedoms I take for granted every day of my life.

Thank you to all the men and women that have served and are currently serving this country. Thank you to all those who have lost loved ones in the military. Your sacrifices are worth more than I can ever say.


Ellen Stewart (aka Ellie/El) said...

Very well put. Your frustration in not being able to, perhaps, thank him properly fueled this post and will cause others to think--on many levels.

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