By: Matt Gordon
My dad is from Sydney, Australia. So while I grew up in America and with an appreciation for my country, there was no brimming patriotism from our household. We belonged to the stories of our Nation, but they didn’t quite belong to us. The Fourth of July was great, as we hung with friends and played volleyball, but the freedoms expressed were not deeply associated with grandfathers who crawled in the mud in foreign lands to do battle with tyranny or grandmothers who fought to keep the country alive during war time. We knew these things occurred, but they were stories we read, not ones we took part in.
As such, Veterans Day was an important day but only because we were told it was an important day. We didn’t sit on the lap of our elders and hear about storming beaches, nor did our father tell of “that one time in basic.” Veterans Day was a day to show respect because it would be rude not to; it was a handshake of a thing, not a full-bodied embrace.
Then, in 2013, I got hired by a mortgage company that specializes in VA Home Loans, meaning our people served those who had served our country in some capacity. Many of my workmates are veterans. I saw the picture of one group of my workmates celebrating the birthdate of the Marines—all tattooed men and women of mayhem: fighters for freedom. I spoke earlier this week with a burly combat veteran who happened over to my office in a time of need. He stood before me, openly crying, sharing with me a recent loss a dear friend of his family’s had to face—all tenderness and care. I read an email today from our Chief Marketing Officer, a former servicemember, which detailed an initiative our company is doing to thank veterans for their service through generating online gratitude to raise money, and then using that money to pay off mortgages for men and women who have served our country. I watched one such call where a winsome single dad was told that his mortgage was being paid off in full. He wept. I wept.
In a matter of years, Veterans Day has become my story. Not because I am a veteran. Not because of some studious pursuit or some mandatory office training. No, one is moved to understanding and tears and appreciation by drawing near to his or her fellow human. Because of a career move, my life and its story all the sudden bumped up against the lives and stories of so many others. And what one realizes is that our stories overlap. That is part of what being American is—a massive overlapping of some 330 million lives. We are all part of the same river that flows down from April of 1775, that meanders over odious trenches and red-stained fields and laps onto shores in Normandy. Not all of it has been good; not all of it fair. But we move together in hopes of a more perfect union, a better society, a collective pursuit of happiness. It is a story which belongs to all of us, and it has been carried forth, protected and defended, by a brave collection of our best and most courageous, across gender, creedal, and racial lines. They have kept the flame of the story aglow; all heat and light.
It brings to mind the stirring maxim: “There is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down their life for the sake of their friends.”
Our veterans have lived that truth out. On fields of combat, at weekend drill, during natural disasters, through tedious trainings, and as they serve our communities. They lay their lives down for their friends.
And that is something worthy of a celebration. Of somber reflection. Of something beyond a cold handshake. A warmth of salute and a full embracing is not asked for, but it is owed.
Happy Veterans Day and a deep thank you for all who have seen the mess and sprinted courageously into it.