During my recent trip to Florida I had the opportunity to accompany my brother-in-law to the Veteran’s Hospital in Miami. Not being a veteran I have not been to one before. He was there to visit his doctor in an outpatient clinic. What I saw, witnessed, experienced and felt was totally unanticipated. At first I expected to feel sympathy even empathy but I was soon proven I was wrong. The people there were open, even jovial, yet perceptive. A few greeted me but quickly realized I was not a vet. They were not rude or hostile. The just looked in my face and looked away, not speaking to me any further. It was not just one or two, but many. Some didn’t even speak to me; just the look in my eyes must have given me away.
I met so many people there. A man called Ernie, a World War II Navy Vet; a number of Korean Police Action Vets; a far greater number of Vietnam Vets and those who were Middle East survivors. Mind you, I did not visit the inpatient wards. I rode up on an elevator and they joked and looked around to see who was laughing. When their eyes met mine they just looked away and continued telling funny antidotes. At one point a doctor entered the elevator, a man way too young to be there with them. He looked at me and directed his comments to all the others. He too recognized my status. I was not in the fraternity of these other men and women he was caring for.
When we were finished we went back down to the lobby. Tom told me to wait outside for him while he brought the car around. If you want to smoke you need to go across the driveway and smoke there. I crossed the driveway and sat on a bench. I took out a cigarette and lit it with my replica 1940’s Zippo lighter which I carry in honor of my father (a WW2 Navy Vet and a smoker). I flicked it open, lit the fire and snapped it closed. Those sitting near me heard that all too familiar sound. A faint smile crossed their faces and just as quickly ran away. Perhaps it was all too familiar.
Tom brought the car around and I got in. He asked me about the impressions I got. I said my feelings ran amuck. What started as sympathy and empathy soon changed to envy, then admiration, and ended with inspiration. He chuckled.
So next time you go to the ballot box, consider your choices well. But give a fleeting thought to the men and women who paid the price, so you can go to another city or state and not have to state your business, or how long you will be staying, or show your papers to be allowed to vote. Think about the men and women who risked both life and limb to preserve our freedoms. It may not change your mind but it may help you see things more clearly.