Friday, October 21, 2011

Unexpected Blessings

The lights of the quilt shop that I frequent were glowing softly as I pulled into the parking lot tonight.  You might well ask what I was doing going to the shop after dark.  Well, tonight was a very special night - so special that I just had to write about it.  But first, before I tell you about the evening, I want you to take a moment to think of all the veterans that you know.  And while you are thinking of them, please take time to include their families in your thoughts.  I know that in my own family, we can count the veterans back through the generations to the Civil War and even beyond, to those soldiers who fought in European wars before our ancestors immigrated to the United States.  Family members that I know personally who are or were veterans include my grandfather, my father, my brother, and two uncles, as well as my father-in-law.  So service to country is something not unfamiliar to our family. 

My brother was stationed in Baghdad shortly after the war in Iraq began.  I vividly remember the panicky mornings I spent driving to work listening frantically to the news reports of bombings inside the supposedly safe Green Aone.  I would rush into work, log onto my computer, and try to find maps of the Green Zone to see if the bombings were anywhere near where my brother was, trying to decide if he was safe or not until I could get a reply to my anxious email telling me he was OK.  That was when being a family member of a veteran became personal to me.

When my local quilt shop became a Quilt of Valor shop, a group of ladies, including myself, were given the honor of creating quilt blocks and entire quilt tops to be given to veterans.  This project was begun by the mother of a veteran back in 2005, I believe - you can actually google Quilts of Valor and learn much more about the project than I can remember tonight.  Anyway, the purpose of the project is to give a quilt to veterans as a small token of appreciation for their service to our country.  The project was very intriguing to me, and as I've said, I am participating, although in a very small way.

Anyway, tonight at Bless My Stitches Quilt Shop, a small group of men and women gathered to honor a young man just back from Iraq and present him with a quilt.  I don't think that there are even any words to describe what an emotional experience it was to see this young man, not even 20 years old, with his mother and grandparents, to know that he is the recipient of a Purple Heart, and to watch him receive a Quilt of Valor.  How do I put into words what I felt learning of the bravery he has shown at such a young age?  Or voice even a modicum of the fears his mother must have experienced, or the joy when her son came back home to her? 

Standing in that quilt shop, looking at this young man, I fought back tears.  While I deplore war, at the same time I HAVE to be so incredibly grateful that there are people like this young man who are willing to put all the rest of us before their own lives, regardless of the reason for the war.  Without young men and women like the young man I met tonight, we would be without the many freedoms we take so much for granted. 

These were only a few of the thoughts that were running through my mind as he was thanking us for his quilt.  One thought that stood out from the rest was my thankfulness that this young man did not return to face an angry public like the one that my uncle met on his return from Viet Nam.  And just as that thought crossed my mind, our quilt shop owner picked up another quilt and gave it to a gentleman who, although I didn't ask, surely must have been a veteran of the Viet Nam War.  I think of the stoic, yet genuinely surprised and pleased look on that gentleman's face when he accepted his quilt, and my throat just tightens up and the tears brim even as I am typing this.   

As a nation of people who value their freedom above all else, we should ALWAYS embrace our veterans.  They are heroes any way you look at it.  Whether we believe in war or not, whether we believe in the current cause of the day or not, whether these men and women were called up or signed up, veterans deserve respect and thanks for the bravery, valor, courage, and selflessness they have shown when their country called.  Throughout the history of the United States, were it not for veterans, you and I would not be able to be about our daily business.

If, for just five minutes, we each put ourselves in the shoes of a soldier, experience what a soldier experiences, or experience the quiet desperation of the family members of a soldier, we all might come just a little closer to truly appreciating what these brave men and women have done for us.  I wonder how different our outlook might be if each of us took the time to do that.  Have any of us who are not soldiers truly taken into consideration just what a gift these people, throughout the history of our country, have given us? 

Tonight I experienced a blessing in meeting these two men and thinking of the men in my own family who have served our country.  I thought of those who have died in service to country and how blessed the families of these two men must feel that their folks returned from their wars, whole in body and healing in mind.  To say "Thank You" seems so insignificant in light of what these people do, but these two words can also lead to reflection on their true meaning.  Next time you see a soldier, please take the time to say, "Thank you."     

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