I appreciate our lives in the military, but am I one of those people that has American flags at every turn in this house? Do I have yellow stickers on my car? No. I have always felt a quiet sense of national pride. It was unspoken and understood, I suppose I assumed that everyone felt the same way. When Elsbeth was eight weeks old Jeremy left for a deployment in Kuwait. Did I cry? For a minute. But I knew it was part of the bargain when we signed up for this adventure and I accepted it and trusted that the divine hands of fate would return him to me in the same condition in which he left me. And they did.
My experience with military life has been very limited thus far. I visit the commissary occasionally and I've been to hail and farewell events. I've enjoyed the people my Husband has worked with, but so far I have really only been exposed to his colleagues within the medical department, many of whom are civilian employees. And then we moved here.
Last week I had to take Elsbeth to the doctor for her well visit and now we go to the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. It is a very large facility and also the place where Jeremy will begin his residency next year. I suppose I was unprepared for what I would see when I went inside. The walls are covered with pictures of past and present Naval officers and one large wall had shadow boxes featuring scale models of some of the Naval medical ships. I remember reading the names of the ships and being touched that they were all compassionate names like Mercy and Comfort and I thought of the people that serve on them. And then I thought of my husband and how when he found out that he was to be deployed soon after the birth of his first child never once complained but accepted with a sense of pride and duty his assignment and I in turn felt proud.
As I walked through the hospital to the pediatric center with Elsbeth, I witnessed so many men with injuries of a very devastating nature. One had a large scar covering most of the back of his head and another had both legs amputated from the knee down. Over and over again we were met with injuries like this and I'm sure most of which were a direct result of the war. And yet as terrible as they were, each of these people were smiling, many of them accompanied by their families, wives, and children.
I remember when Jeremy had first returned from Officer Indoctrination School and we went to eat at Ruth Chris steak house. He wore his uniform and during the course of our dinner we were sent a complimentary bottle of wine, a free appetizer which we were informed by our server were compliments of other patrons with the remark of thanking Jeremy for his service. When we left several people stopped him to shake his hand and thank him for what he was doing. I was still a young idiot and didn't understand this. Now I've had a taste of the storms of life and I understand a little better.
As we were leaving the hospital, a man with injuries to his legs that I couldn't quite understand came walking in our direction with his service dog. A large sign upon the dogs back read: Please don't pet me, I am working. And yet when this man who struggled to take every step saw the joy on my daughters face at the sight of his dog, he stopped and offered to let her pet him. I told him that it was OK, I understood that it must happen many times a day and that we were fine just looking. He told me that he stopped for anyone under nine and over 70.
In that moment I wanted to hug him. And not just because he was kind to a child, but because this spirit of resilience and joy despite debilitating circumstances was so prevalent it was almost contagious. I told him thank you but what I really wanted to say to every one of those men and women there was Thank you for what you do, for your service, for your sacrifice and your spirit. Because now, NOW I finally understand.