Musings from my Motorcycle

The poorly guarded secret about me is that I spend most of my time outside of work riding motorcycles, for me there are few things more productive than a full tank of gas, a good road and a great playlist.

  1. Have the courage to defy the odds. Nothing great in life comes by chance or even by raw talent, it takes time, hard work, determination and a willingness to embrace your fear. It was 35 years ago that I took my first motorcycle safety course at CLC. Seven motorcycles and hundreds of thousands of miles later, I send a mental High five to that younger version of myself that had the guts to saddle up the first time. It takes a lot of effort for things to look effortless but there are few things more empowering than riding a 900 pound “big boy “ bike competently.
  2. Often the best things happen when you take the unfamiliar road. While the destination is often the most rewarding, it is the journey that is most satisfying. As a Navy wife, I had little say in where I was going, but when I opened my heart to the possibilities, I was blessed with amazing experiences and few regrets.
  3. You are not the only one on the road- Be aware of the impact you have on others- both positive and negative. Be gentle with those who frustrate you. Be patient with those who pluck your last nerve. But also the more you are genuinely curious about people and their stories, the more enriched you will find yourself to be.
  4. Look where you’re going because you are going where you look. Wherever you are putting your time and attention is where you are heading. Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want. Keep your head up and keep your eyes in the direction you want to move.
  5. The easiest way, is not always the best way. It took me 14 years to complete my college degree and my resume looks a lot like a game of frogger- but it best served my family at the time. My youngest son is on the Autistic spectrum and because of that I made some difficult decisions around my career.  It wasn’t easy. But At 26, he is an award winning photojournalist with an exceptional ability to capture emotion with his camera lens and the source of great joy to me.
  6. As long as you are moving forward, you will be fine. Focusing on the past is not productive and in the case of a motorcycle, not safe. There is no reverse on a motorcycle or in life. Take a deep breath and roll the throttle- you’ll stay upright.
  7. There are two types of riders- those who have laid a bike down and those who will. Laying your bike down is scary picking it back up and getting back on is scarier. My daughter Aeysha and Son Terrance followed their father and grandfathers into the military. They represent less than 1% of the population that took the oath to defend this nation. They have seen poverty and hardships- death and destruction. And yet they remain kind, compassionate and in service. They know, There is no success without failure or fear.
  8. When Life throws you a curve, lean in. –Things won’t always go the way you hoped but they will always keep going. Embracing the hard stuff is what makes the rest of life easy.
  9. Maintain your equipment. 30 years ago, I quit smoking. It remains the hardest thing I have ever done. They say you only live once, but I believe you only die once- you live everyday.  You owe it to the yourself and the world to give it your best.
  10. Surround yourself with people you know love and trust- your life depends on it. My moto family are amazing people who I literally trust my life with. I am thankful everyday for each of them.
  11. Enjoy the ride.– Laugh from your belly. It cost nothing to be kind and compassionate. My challenge to you is the next time you think- someone should do something about that- remember- You are someone. Pick up the litter. open the door. Run for office. Write the check. Become an active participant in your world.

And Finally, Check your mirrors. I am ridiculously blessed to have a life filled with wonderful people who reflect all that is good in life back to me. One of those people is Dana Behnke. She is one of my oldest and closest friends. She loves me enough to have donned an itchy black polyester bridesmaid dress that despite my best sales pitch that she could always just “shorten the hem” I’m confident she never wore it again. She is the model of how to live, love and laugh.

I am no where ready to permanently put down my kickstand- in fact, I more fully understand the value a full tank a gas and an open road to keep balance in my life. And a when you ride a motorcycle,  you become very in touch with the importance of balance.

Wherever you going- be safe.

70 years ago, That terrible day

A few years ago, I sat next to an elderly gentleman while waiting for my Chiropractic appointment. He had beautiful blue eyes and a gentle temperament. His name was Louis. He was the sweetest man. Each week, our appointments coincided and I began to look forward to our chats. In fact, I enjoyed them so much, I came earlier and earlier to be able to talk with him. He served in the Army in World War II. We began to talk about a project I was working on, a writing group for veterans. We talked about the experiences of being military, the challenges of coming home after seeing an active war zone, etc. It was months before he began to really share. I asked him once if there was one thing he wish he could share with people. He looked to the floor and sighed. When he looked up at me, his beautiful blue eyes were clouded with tears- “You can not begin to imagine seeing those boys on the beach. The smells in the air, the sounds. We were all so scared. Can’t even imagine it. And I can’t forget it. “.

“They were just kids.”

I sat quietly listening week after week as Louis shared small snippets of his experience during the landing at Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, his time in boot camp.

Each story was packaged in a well rehearsed way- with enough information to be interesting but always just a very high level accounting of life in the military- it felt  like reading a text book.

One day, Lou and I talked about a young vet I had been talking with. I told Louis how that vet had compared talking about the war with taking out the garbage- it always pollutes something else.  But that after one particular conversation- he shared more than he had ever done before and told me how much better he felt. That while he still had trouble sleeping, it was better than it had been.

Lou began to share a reoccurring nightmare he had of the death of one of his friends. His friend, a farm boy from Nebraska had taken the woolen cloak of a fallen German solider.

‘It was just so cold you see- he didn’t take it as a souvenir- he took it to stay warm.“  Late one night- a new member of his squad came upon his friend sleeping in the woods.

“ He stabbed that boy with his bayonet- I will never forget the look on his face when he realized what he had done. It was terrible.”  Louis let out a deep sigh and rose from his seat to leave.

Shaking his head he looked at me and said, ”No one needs to hear those things. Those are stories better left unsaid.”

When he left the room, his wife quietly said “I have known Lou for over 60 years. I never heard those stories. He never says a word about the war. Not a word.”

I sat in my chair for what seemed like forever. I was still processing what had just happened.

Today- in honor of the 70 anniversary of the Landing at Normandy, I ask you to say a pray for Lou’s wife, Bernice. Lou died during this hard winter. Leaving a legacy of love and joy in his wake. He was a happy man than embraced life each day- because he was taught as a young man what was at stake.

 

louis f. horwath Born: August 21, 1917; Chicago, IL Died: January 11, 2014; Wonder Lake, IL Louis F. Horwath, age 96, of Wonder Lake, died Saturday, January 11, 2014, at Centegra Hospital-McHenry. He was born August 21, 1917 in Chicago to Michael and Therese (Prangle) Horwath. Raised in Chicago, he was a veteran of the U.S. Army. He served during World War II and was awarded a Bronze Star and 4 Campaign Medals as part of the Normandy invasion on D-Day, and also part of subsequent campaigns. Louis also was with U.S. troops at the Belgian town of Bastogne as part of the Battle of the Bulge. He enjoyed a 33-year career at the Sunbeam Corporation, where he worked in Quality Control. In 1952, Louis was introduced to his future wife, Bernice M. Meyer, through a co-worker, who happened to be Bernice ‘s choir director at church. They later married on March 22, 1958 at Grace Lutheran Church in Chicago. In 1980, they moved to Wonder Lake, where he and Bernice enjoyed their retirement years. Louis enjoyed working with stained glass, and over the years, made several treasured gifts for his family. Always one to keep busy, he also refinished furniture, did wallpapering, as well as helped with many household chores. He was an avid golfer, and enjoyed winning several trophies for his excellent golfing. Louis and his wife traveled extensively. They visited every state in the U.S., and traveled to Europe 24 times. A favorite destination was Austria, where they visited the home his mother was born in, as well as Italy, Switzerland, and Greece. His family was an important part of his life. Louis enjoyed hosting his nieces and nephews at their annual Christmas Eve gatherings. He will be remembered by family and friends for a wonderful sense of humor, quick wit, and his love of joking with people wherever he went. Louis was a faithful member of the Wonder Lake Bible Church in Wonder Lake. A memorial service followed by military honors was held to honor his memory.

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Light amongst the darkness……

Three weeks ago my heart was broken with the loss of my sister Linda Vasseur. My pain was so overwhelming I wasn’t sure how to keep her light in my heart. Every day was an effort… returning to work to those people who mean so well when they ask how you are…. the anxious look in their eye that you might actually tell them the truth.  Or worse, those people who don’t know…. and you get to relive the experience anew through the shock and pained look on their face.

And that question… “Do you mind if I ask what happened?” ……. ugh, like a punch to the gut.  I go breathless. 

Every time I thought I had it together, that I could get through the story without breaking down, tear streaming down my face my throat catches and my eyes leak.

God Love the members of the CASA board as I attempted to explain why I hadn’t accomplished my deliverable for the month.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t get it together to write the talking points that I promised…”

And I had to say those words out loud….

My sister died.

When I finally looked up, mopping the tears from my cheek my heart was filled with the love and support I saw reflecting towards me from their eyes. Good people make bad things feel less lonely.

In the midst of this, I was in the middle of the interview process for a new position. It was a multi step process and I was in the final stages. The job is a perfect match to my skills and passions. Job interviews are often anxiety filled and it is hard not to get tied up in minor details or the never ending tape of the ways I could have answered a question better. I didn’t have time to think about it. I did the best I could and went back to the painful work of packing my sister’s life up.

That job would be great. But, really?  And all the trolls began to march in my head about why I would NEVER get that job. It seemed so beyond my reach.  It was too much a perfect match of the things I believe in Community Economic Development, Government Advocacy, and Relationships. Who really gets paid to do what they believe?

I swear when I hung up the phone after accepting that position….That perfect position that values my skills and my experience. That perfect job that pays well. That perfect job that fits my heart’s work of community.

I heard my sister giggle.

love you Linda. Help me to channel your strength and your joy every day.

You always believed in the power of possibilities. 

Together we can build a beautiful city…. In love and Light.

 

 

 

Beam me up…

My world wobbled on its axis last Thursday. I knew. I looked at the phone and saw that it was my husband calling. Not texting. Calling.  I sat in my office, looking at the phone ringing in my hand and knew. He would only call if it were bad.

He had gone to check on my sister, Linda.

On March 13, 2014, the world lost a fierce warrior and a beautiful spirit with the death of Linda Vasseur. Linda was a hero to me. She taught me a lot through my life- how to laugh fully from my belly and with no worry.

How to love with a wide open heart free of judgment.

That no matter how far down you think you are, there is always someone you can reach back to help.

And she taught me that life isn’t fair- but that you need to get up and move forward anyway.

I used to feel like my family had been gambling on borrowed time. When you have ten kids everything is increased-joy, love and risk.  Our hand was called.

On Feb. 2, 1991, A senseless accident left my sister bleeding on the side of Rt. 41 with a ruptured aorta. Linda died in the helicopter. Linda died on the table. Linda died in her room. Never one to give up easily, Linda came back swinging each time. She went on to give us the gift of 23 years of joy and love.

The accident left her confined to a wheel chair challenging her to defy the odds that always seemed stacked against her.

She was 31 years old. I can’t even imagine.

Truth be told, it didn’t even slow her down. She lived independently. She learned to drive with hand controls. She held a job. She rescued animals. She held fantastic parties to raise funds for causes for those who needed an advocate to fight for them.  She helped everyone she knew in every way she could.

And she danced.  And she danced. And she danced.

It is a rich soundtrack that plays when I think of Linda. She introduced me to some of the most important music of my life; Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Melissa Etheridge, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Lang, Eric Clapton….  Songs with Lyrics that to this day make me stop and listen- with all my heart.  Life lessons woven in a blues chord.

Linda LOVED music.  Among her things we found stacks of concert tickets and Ravina season schedules.  Linda  would say- “Come with me- we’ll get great seats… or seat, I bring my own.”

No matter that challenges she woke each day with a song in her heart and a smile on her face.

Lindas smile

She felt each day was a blessing- truly, truly lived each day as if it were a gift- because to her, it was.  Tonight, I sit on the eve of the full moon and raise a toast. To Linda.  I love you. I miss you. My heart aches and I can’t breath …

But then I see you, head bobbing, Cell phone high, singing on your way to heaven.

Say Hi to dad for me.  I will always love you.

No fun Snow Run

“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only for one second without hope.”     ― Hal Lindsey

Today is the second anniversary of the day that Curtis M. Fike lost his final battle. After four deployments and plagued with PTSD and an untreated TBI, Curtis had slowly slid into a darkness filled with alcohol abuse, road rage and depression that he could no longer find his way out of.  He landed in a place where he lost hope for a normal healthy life and did what he felt was the only way to end the torment; unaware he was merely passing the pain on to those who love him. 

Amidst the volume of unanswered questions and cascade of tears, I find proof of one thing. Suicide is a virus; one form of pain merely mutates into another.

It is an observation based on the tender hearts of grieving families left behind desperate to find the answers they seek. 

Tomorrow I will be running the sNOw run with Curtis as my companion. My hope is someone asks me about the image on my shirt. My hope is to tell someone about the beautiful boy with the infectious smile.  My hope is the chance to start a new conversation about hope and service. My hope is  to make someone uncomfortable about the silence in the country about the cost of conflict, why the VA is NOT the place to balance the budget and the responsibility we as a nation have to our now professional military fighting the longest conflict in the nation’s history.  My hope is to challenge the assumption coming home “safe” means the mission is over. 

My hope is to bring a light to the darkness and illuminate the path as these warriors make their way home. And that the families of those lost can find a way to mend their broken hearts. 1501743_10152503571095760_1961316006_n

Fresh fallen snow….

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
heart-in-snow-wallpaper

Happy New Years! Today is New Year’s Day. Facebook is filled with weight loss and personal enlightenment tips, the television is filled with Bowl games and my yard is filled with new fallen snow.

Nine inches of beautiful, pristine white blankets my yard.

It covers my gardens that I was not attentive to in my fall clean up. It covers my dog’s waste.  It covers the dying lawn and hardened ground. It covers “a litany of sins” as my father would say.

Imagine. We can play, falling arms wide to make Snow angels.

Or run with intention to make Designs visible from the second story.  Infinite possibilities.  My heart quivers with excitement. Where do I start?  It is irresistible.

But then, I begin to worry.

Pristine. No paths. No landmarks. Perfect. Virgin snow.

Imagine. Every move recorded. Ever step left as evidence of the direction taken. Decisions made.  Overwhelming.

The perfect analogy for a new year; pristine.

As is each day. New Year’s Day is change of the calendar- but isn’t every day? Isn’t everyday the right day to start living healthy, loving more, being present, make responsible financial choices, tell those you hold dear you love them, leave behind the habit that shackles you, live in gratitude, welcome joy and embrace the miracles around you?

From where I sit, each day is pristine. Each day a gift to do something to make my life more of what I want and to leave behind the things that no longer serve me.

My resolution is to wake each morning and send up a pray that I was blessed with the day.  I will face each day as the gift that it is.  That is all I got and it is enough.  It is more than enough. My awareness in this moment is that it is the little things that lead to big change. It is the first step that begins a journey. It is the compounding interest of choice that leads to transformation.  This past year opened the door to a great deal of self learning and reintroduction to ideas I had left unattended in the pursuit of busy.

  1. Not getting what you want sucks; but not knowing what you want sucks more.
  2. Hanging onto to something so you don’t lose it is your heart telling your head that it is already gone.
  3. Being too busy to hear yourself think is pretending you don’t hear yourself.
  4. There is nothing as scary as trusting your intuition. There is nothing as extraordinary as trusting your intuition. There is nothing if you don’t trust your intuition.
  5. Each day is a new chance. To be. Not to be. That really is the question.

So happy New Day! Celebrate! There are no paths. There are just possibilities.

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True North.

When we learn to attune ourselves to our inner compass we follow a map that only we can see, our own path.

I can’t identify the exact time.  I can’t identify the trigger. But I can share the moment I gave words to it- that I know longer knew my true North.  I was sitting in a parking lot of a friend’s store. I was texting another friend about  frustration with my job search and my current employer. Why well intended comments about being “too big” for my market left me feeling small and inadequate rather than empowered.  And then I said it.  I can’t find my true north. I am feeling rudderless in a fragile boat on rough seas.

As a Navy wife, I spent a great deal of my life adapting to my surroundings. Finding ways to build community in a ever changing landscape. Finding ways to meet the needs of my young family with a special child, no support system and a husband out to sea. Finding a way to secure employment that allowed me to be mentally challenged yet flexible and available to the needs of a military family. My parameters were easy- what meets the needs of my family.

As I enter into this new chapter of my life, I find that the parameters are different. What meets the needs of me? For the first time in my life, there is no outside influence setting my boundaries. It is all me. And here is where I sit- lost and unsure of which path to take.

I write to keep from drowning in the seas of my mind. They are often dark and stormy, sometimes racing with wild waves and like the waters that surround the Aran islands, even when still have the potential to change at any moment.  I like to think it is what makes me me. But it is not without its challenges.

My friend always tells me not to overanalyze things- said in a way that makes it seem like I can stop thinking on the 6 channels at once, that my situational awareness can lower because I want it to- that I can stop feeling the energetics of everyone around me  and stop seeing behind the curtain as my friend so beautifully described it recently. I wish I could. It would make my life easier. Reduce the times I feel like big shoes on little feet, tripping and stumbling with trust that someone will understand how my brain works.

But what I can’t seem to identify is what my next step is. In recent years, I have started down paths that seem so perfect. That seem so destine in some way. Those same roads have led to stone walls that were insurmountable.

I will be settling in this eve to meditate and pray on tonight, the longest night. 

In the darkness, I will search for my north star, for guidance on for where my next steps will lead me and my family.  I don’t know what the future holds but I know this.
I woke this day with access to clean water- which is more than 780 million people can say.
I woke this day in a warm, safe home with no fear in my heart- which is more than 3 million Americans can say today.
I woke this day with my family home and no one deployed- which is more than I could say for 25+ years.
I woke this day.
I am well loved. I am well blessed.
And in this moment, I am well aware that no winter lasts forever and no spring skips her turn.
Tonight I will pray to stay awake and have faith that no matter where I step – it is right for my true North is in my heart.
Love and Blessing to each of you.
MMM

The Lady in Red.

Last year while training for my first half marathon, I fractured my hip. Yes, I am such an uncoordinated runner that I broke myself merely training. In all honesty, in my mind I am that mime of a sleek gazelle of a woman running with fluid ease, when in truth I am sure I look like a person having a seizure and half expect the on site medical staff to run to my aid confident that I must be in distress  after all, I  look – well- awkward.  But I love to run. I am not good at it. My body giggles.  My feet hurt. And on a day that is cold like today, the screws in my hip ache and my lungs wheeze.

All said- I still love to run. More importantly, I love to think of myself as a runner.

Today- I was running with a purpose; two in fact. As a board member for McHenry County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) I am grateful to Mike Splitt having the brilliant idea to organize a Santa Run for Children charities. Last year, the inaugural year, the race attracted over 770 runners. This year, nearly a 1,000 runners. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon in December.  CASA is one of the organizations that benefit from the funds raised for the privilege of wearing a thin Santa suit and running in the cold.

This year, I was also running for Curtis M. Fike.  Curtis was a Marine. He served three combat deployments in 4 years. He left the Marines and was recalled a year and a half later for his 4th deployment before succumbing to the torment of an undiagnosed TBI and PTSD. He ended his pain and began a new journey for his loved ones on Jan 3, 2012.

He sent his sister a text saying he was sorry. He left a note to his family apologizing for doing something so stupid.  But he could not see his way out of the pain and more importantly- he had lost hope for a normal healthy life.  Curtis went from being a happy, young athlete with a breathtaking smile to a combat veteran who was prone to angry outbursts and road rage. He felt unsupported by the VA personnel who are prone to use pharmaceuticals as their go to tool.  One of the young men I talk with explained the dichotomy this way- the Military knows how to turn you from an individual to part of a unit. They just are not as good at re-individuating that same veteran. I did not know Curtis.  I don’t know his family. I learned who he was on pages of heartfelt tributes and various news articles. He was well loved and loved well.

Keri Jacobs created a community of runners a few years ago- running to raise awareness that veterans are committing suicide at the rate of 22 per day, To raise awareness of this epidemic.

I ran the Santa Run with a picture of Curtis on my back lovingly framed by the words 22 TOO MANY and Never Forgotten.

I saw the looks on people’s faces as they read the placards worn by my 6 friends. Six other veterans lost to suicide.  There are stories for many, many more. You may be asking yourself- so what? You wear some kid you don’t know- people feel sad- nothing changes. This is what changed for me. I now feel I know Curtis. He kept me company for 3.16 miles on my first race post surgery. I was scared and worried I couldn’t finish. I had not been training. In preparing for the race I found I gave up easily. I was afraid. Afraid I would hurt myself. Again.

But how do I not keep going when running with Curtis.  I thought- shit, this is NOTHING compared to back to back deployments.  What am I complaining about?  I spent the afternoon reading about the legacy that Curtis left- people who loved him, people who were touched by him, and the changes to the way that Veterans are treated at the center that was unable to light his way out of the darkness. Curtis’s legacy is now the light for those who follow.  Wearing his image kept me going. So, to me, it made a difference. And each time I tell someone about why I run and for whom, it will make difference.  My father always said- you have to suit up, show up and pick up the rope. We all have our load to bear.  We don’t have to be a superhero to change the world. We just need to be present.  Happy Sunday. Thanks, Curtis for running with me today- my load was much lighter with you with me

If you want to learn more about the mission of 22 Too Many- check out their facebook.  Or to learn about Curtis, follow this link. http://www.springfieldnewssun.com/news/news/local/ohio-seeing-dramatic-increase-of-ptsd-cases-1/nPSfh/

The Girl Who Was Too Much

This is the story of the girl who was too much. Once upon a time, she danced in the sun, relishing with abandon the fire that ran through her veins.  She jumped for joy – filled the crevice of her heart with all she desired.

 

Her smiled filled the sky with song and she bit into life and let the juice run down her chin.

 

Slowly, she began to wonder. Why did people shake their heads at her? Point their fingers and snicker behind their hand. Who does she think she is? She is so LOUD! Look how selfish she is to take of so much of the sunshine.  And that dance- is she  just crazy.  People will see.

 

Slowly, over time the girl lessened her song, singing it softly so as not to disturb those around her. And she began to realize real ladies didn’t jump and dance with joy, but kept their poise and smiled shyly. Soon, her heart was no longer brimming but still filled with the approval of those around her.

 

At times,she would forget her place and call out with joy, jump to the sky, her face to the sun.  Until those she held most dear, those she loved with all the joy in her heart would back away from the grandness of her presence and tell her she was too much.

 

They would look at her beauty, the joy in her heart and they were afraid. It was so bright, shone in the night sky like a harvest moon.  Surely it would draw unwanted attention.  It should be put away. Hidden for your own protection.  Someone might see, get the wrong idea. You had to be careful, you don’t want to be one of those girls; those girls who take what they want.

 

So she learned to quiet her voice, lessen her joy, stop her dance… fit in, blend in- don’t want to much, take too much, live too much…

But she had a secret.

Her joy still shone through her eyes and she would dance with abandon in the privacy of her mind. She would laugh out loud when she was alone– and cast her joys to the winds where they would be held and nourished.

 

But still the box grew smaller. “Your questions show a mind to quick to be trusted- you will make them feel bad. “

“Your laugh is inappropriate- you’re so loud…. “

“You lust for life. It  is so.. so wanting. “

Don’t be rude.  Wait your turn.

Don’t tell me what you want in your bones- your knowing frightens me- it is too raw, too real, too, too much.

 

And so the girl believed she was too much. And hid her true self until that day

She laughed with a richness she had forgotten. Her heart sailed to heights she had never before seen and danced with joyous abandon.

You found me. She cried. You saw me in the darkness where we have walked together. I trust you in my cells in ways I have never known before.  You move the blood in my veins – my heart is filled.

Don’t back away… trust that you can hold me. Know that your heart is right and this is our destiny. You are the root of my root, the blood of my blood, the beat of my heart.

Believe that I am enough.

And the reflection in her mirror smiled back at her.

Preparing for Veterans Day

I had the blessing of listening to a conversation between two students last night. They are 25 & 26 years old young men who are confident and at ease in their skins albeit quick with the snark and dark humor. They are both dual theater combat veterans. The conversation was casual- fluid and had an ease of two people who share a secret. A Combat Engineer and an Infantrymen,  both men who had to make a choice on their license plate of whether to say Iraq or Afghanistan. They likely chuckled at how few people realize they are not the same war. Casually, laughingly, they banter back and forth about life in a war zone. They compare the differences between the two different wars;  the lessons learned as you acclimated to life in a war zone. They joke about how Fobbits- (those who spent their war on a Forward Operating Base with schedule chow times, hot showers and the internet) -always say, “My job was kinda like the infantry.” The laughter that follows carries an edge. Yeah, its kinda like comparing a Marshmallow to a brick, they’re both rectangles. 
 Their war wasn’t spent on the FOB but outside the wire.
They laughingly talked about how route clearance patrol was the worse duty- miming the bug eyed look out the window as you slowly roll through the streets of Iraq looking for IEDS- having to get out and investigate each “suspicious” pile of garbage in a country filled with suspicious piles of garbage.  “Just shoot it until it blows up. What? That’s what I did.” the Combat Engineer laughs…. until of course the rules changed and you were no longer able to shoot your weapon without being fired upon first.  Someone might get hurt.
“You know, you just get up on it and go in real low,” he says, miming out the deep knee squat with an arm extended, pretending to poke something with a stick, “because you know going in low made all the difference.” He laughs sarcastically. Nothing like being a shrapnel magnet.
“Yeah, those days sucked.” says the Infantryman looking over at me. “We had to wait for those guys. We rolled out behind the engineers, rolling out real slow….talk about being stressed out. Your just waiting for something to happen. Not if, fucking when.  Just staring, up on the glass looking around. … sucked.”
The conversation evolved into explaining to me the various devices invented by soldiers trying to stay alive- things that would jam cell phone signals to stop bomb detonation. “Talk about a pucker. When your rolling down the road and look at that light as it goes from green to yellow. Fuck that.”
Then calmly explaining that meant the jammer was actually doing its job, meaning there was a bomb trying to go off. Or how another device was developed  when the enemies tactics evolved to inflict more damage  by detonating when the cab was over it- improving its ability to be lethal versus just disabling the vehicle. They share a common disdain for those making money off the war and a frustration with the “Support our Veterans” window dressing that comes with the upcoming holiday.
And most important, they share a pride in their service.
They just want people to get it.
Less than 1% of the population raises that hand in oath to defend the Constitution. Think about that for a minute – these young men and women who were willing to raise their hand, leave their homes and fight a fight they didn’t start. I follow the news and recognize a war weary nation. A nation now wondering if Veterans get too many benefits. Wondering if they are rewarded too much for doing their jobs. After all, they weren’t drafted, they volunteered.
To those individuals I say, “Bite me.”
Where was this concern in the beginning?  When the country was in the rabid post 9/11 days wanting vengeance? You wrote the check. Now it is time to cash it.
On this upcoming Veteran’s Day- amidst the furniture and car sales and the household chores you are able to do on your day off- I ask you to remember those who sacrificed for this day. They are no longer only those stoic old men talking about battles long ago. They are young men and women who sacrificed their youth. Gave up the freedom to avoid dangerous situations. The Freedom to say “Are you friggin’ crazy- those people are shooting out there, I don’t want to go.” They sacrificed the giggle of their kids, the warmth of their loved ones arms, the ease of sleeping in, the choice of what to do with their day, the ability to quit their job because it sucks, the right to decide where they want to live, the right to a warrant before search of their home, car or person, the right to protest or talk to the press, the freedom to decide to grow their hair long or decide what to wear to work.
The every day freedoms that we often do not even think about because they are so innate are the same things the military forgoes when they raise their hand and take an oath to defend the Constitution.  And now, they face a country that is afraid of their unseen wounds. A country that can’t see how the skills of staying alive on a battle field convert to the civilian workplace.  Or think it is unfair that you go to school for free.  Free, except that it was paid for by spending time in a desert hoping to come out unscathed. And knowing that is the lie you tell yourself to keep going everyday.
 
One percent.
Thank a vet. Look them in the eye. Speak from your heart and be thankful you have no idea how they feel. Veterans day is the day we celebrate Veterans but we get all the gifts.