Memorial Day is not Veteran’s Day. Confusing the two is like eulogizing Grandpa when he’s going in for a dental cleaning. Right audience, wrong occasion.
For the most part, holidays are joyful. (Enter tacky reindeer theme sweater here.) Living near DC is especially fun during major holidays like Veteran’s Day, Forth of July, and when Congress is in recess. I took my tiny tot to the parade to cheer for the men and women marching in the humidity, sweating shoulder to shoulder with thousands of strangers eating mysterious meat on a stick from the rows of food trucks nearby.
But first I went for a run. It was a 5k in Baltimore. I came in third in my age group. Not bad for having to wake up at 5am and drive 75 minutes in the humidity. (I hate being hot.)
I always run for my dad – for Parkinson’s – for people struggling so in the 26, 27, 28 minutes it takes me to run a 5k, I’m carrying their burden. This run was my 22 push up challenge. I get it. A bucket of ice water, 22 push ups for 22 days, posting a cancer awareness post on social media. They’re all ways that we can feel like we’re doing something. And it is something. I’m not sure people covered in ice water saved a life from ALS but I’m sure it made them feel – however briefly – lifted up. I don’t think a veteran will seek help with PTSD because they saw their neighbor in his yard doing 22 push ups. But perhaps it reminds us to look out for one another, to put others before ourselves, to sacrifice a little bit of our time and talents for our community.
Nate Self, USMA ’98 wrote a book called “Two Wars: One Hero’s Fight on Two Fronts – Abroad and Within”. (grab a copy on Amazon). The book is an interesting first hand account of a battle in the Afghan mountains and Nate’s internal struggle back home with PTSD. I have never been to war. I have struggled with depression from time to time like the typical teenage angst, going through a divorce, my father’s disease. We can all relate to anxiety, depression, fear.
On the 9th of July 1990 one of my all time favorite people died. West Point class of 1988, the biggest person at the Camp Thanksgiving kids table, my quiet champion. My daughter is learning to play the piano on the same baby grand he taught me. I have boxes of music – some he has played, some he wrote – that I can’t bring myself to open.
On the 4th of July he left a message on our answering machine. He said, “I can’t reconcile the person I am with the person I want to be.” A few days later he took his life. I was 12 years old.
I don’t think running a road race or doing push ups or dunking myself in cold water would have saved him. He was a thousand miles away in Texas and we were all busy doing our things – unaware of the extent that he was suffering.
16 years later I still think about him every time I play our baby grand. There have been other people I’ve lost – other friends that have died in the decade of war our nation has endured. Their loss is a reminder to be vigilant and intentional in our relationships with one another. In this age of social media and video chat, we don’t have any excuses not to stay connected. Friends, colleagues and classmates have the ability to know what is going on in each others’ lives and have the resources to meet needs in real-time.
So do the push ups. Run the road race. Come alongside someone. Lace up your sneakers and run with me, virtually, even if we’re thousands of miles apart. And if you’re struggling, reach out. Have hope. God isn’t through with me and He isn’t through with you yet. Run to Win.
Appropriately, for our John, John 15: 12-13 (from The Message)
“This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends”