They are everywhere. You may think I am talking about zombies, who suddenly seem to be on everyone’s minds. Or maybe smartphones, which seem to be inescapable wherever I go. But no, I am talking about something you have encountered daily, but probably not recognized: veterans.
Men and women who have served in uniform to defend our nation, many of whom have gone into harm’s way, all of whom have made great personal sacrifices, are all around us. We just do not know it, because unlike zombies, we cannot tell who they are by looking at them. Unlike smartphones, they do not demand our time and attention. But they are there, and we need to recognize that.
This Sunday is Veteran’s Day, which is likely the most neglected federal holiday after Columbus Day. Most folks could not immediately distinguish it from Memorial Day, which is for the commemoration of those who have died in the service of our country. One of my favorite things about it is that it is not moved to the nearest Monday – it is observed on November 11, regardless of the weekday on which it falls. This year, it lands on a Sunday, which for Federal employees but precious few others means Monday off; the beginning of the holiday-rich time that lasts until February – yes, I remember! For most folks, I do not think it even means many sales in the stores any more.
It began as Armistice Day, commemorating the victorious conclusion of World War I, which ended on November 11, 1918 – you know, at 11:11, on 11/11. In the 1950’s the commemoration was expanded to include all veterans, and since that time the exigencies of the world have generated a steady stream of opportunities for willing and selfless souls to be eligible for celebration this day.
In our own parish, I know we still have some WWII veterans, though you’d be hard pressed to get them to identify themselves. Since then, many have served in each conflict, and even in the quiet times. Now, since our nation has been engaged in eleven years of war abroad, there is a steady stream of men and women who have done their duty proudly and well, and returned to the nation they served.
Many of those who have been gravely wounded in this selfless work pass very near here, either at the military medical center in Bethesda, or until recently, Walter Reed in the District. Visiting businesses or restaurants in downtown Silver Spring, you can see some of these wounded warriors as they rehabilitate and regain, steadfastly facing lives forever altered.
Unlike the injured, most veterans simply return to society and blend in. They cover a broad range of age and appearance, making it easy for us to be unaware of what they have done with their lives. Their experiences and their dispositions have been marked by service, however, and that will often tell to those who have eyes to see.
These generous souls move among us without seeking acknowledgement or reward. They have made possible everything we have, and the very confidence with which we enjoy it. I think most of us would eagerly express our gratitude if only presented with a clear opportunity, when it would not be unwelcome or uncomfortable to them, but that is so hard to come by. I know that when the service members are introduced a ballgames downtown, the crowd roars admiration and gratitude both heartfelt and genuine.
So don’t let this be just another weekend, whether yours has three days or only the usual two. Make an opportunity to express you appreciation and gratitude for someone’s willing service, whether you do it in person or in prayer – and why not both? Because these are the folks on whom we continue to depend, and thank God, they are everywhere.