Sunday, December 26, 2010

Stand Up

Christmas shopping has become the epitome of American indulgence. Each year millions of families go out and spend money that they hadn’t saved up in the months prior only to put those purchases on a credit card to be paid at a later time. Instead of scaling down due to the economic downturn, my observation this Christmas was anything but recession spending. Rather, I saw hundreds of shoppers willing to dish out the cash for a Holiday that they seemed to believe in. Throughout this annual Christian tradition that has evolved to symbolize consumerism over anything Holy, I was blessed to have had my faith restored in something a lot bigger than myself.

Earlier this week on my way home from work I decided to do my own last minute shopping at Wal-Mart. Often throughout my daily routines I sometimes forget what I’m wearing or what I represent as I attempt to blend back into civil society after a day at work. On this particular day I walked into Wal-Mart in my uniform to grab a few stocking stuffers that I had forgotten about. While I was busy racing through the aisles to find my presents thinking that I was like the rest of the Holiday shoppers, it took a gray haired greeter at Wal-Mart to remind me who I was.

Upon checking out, I headed for the exit only to see one of the elderly greeters get up from his seated position. Slowly he rose up, pinned his left arm while standing at attention and offered me the sharpest salute I’ve received in a long time. Crusty veterans like the Wal-Mart greeter on that day always catch me off guard. And although it wasn’t the first (nor will it be the last) time that a Veteran has saluted me in uniform, the unexpected nature of receiving a salute at Wal-Mart that led to my embarrassment. I put my head down, awkwardly returned the favor and briskly walked out the exit to my car.

The act of rising to ones feet in honor of another is practiced in many organizations and institutions throughout the country. One of my first observations of this tradition was at Mass. Prior to the Priest reading a passage from the gospel; out of reverence the congregation stands as he walks to the lectern. During weddings, the guests stand as the song “here comes the bride” plays and the bride enters. When a high-ranking senior officer walks into a room, an order for service members to be at “attention” is called. After someone is bestowed a highly coveted award or after someone makes a powerful speech, a standing ovation often occurs. And in the court room when a judge enters, the order “all rise,” is commanded.

The thought of peers, fellow citizens or distinguished men and women rising to their feet is a humbling one. This past month I learned that my father was appointed to the bench and from here on out would be referred to as “his honor.” From now on, when he walks into a courtroom to deliver justice, the members will rise.

Recently many Americans have lost faith in the political system, their government and those who represent them, (me included). And yet, with all of the uncertainty about our future, I have never lost faith in the one man whose character seems to embody everything that is right in this world, my father. My father has the most integrity that I have ever known, and for that alone, I can proudly rise up. With that said, I know men like my father and men like the Wal-Mart greeter, will forever have pride in their country. They are the men who have made it what it is and in spite of the political flavor of the month, they will never lose faith in the United States of America.

After I got home I began to reflect on the old man who out of respect for my rank and uniform and out of pride in his country, saluted me. Men like him have a great appreciation for what freedom is like. They lived through much greater economic recessions, depressions nonetheless, and can perhaps appreciate the shopping activity at Wal-Mart even if they look chaotic. They have seen wars and seen their friends not come home. They have raised children, paid their taxes, paid their dues. They are a generation that is slowly fading away before my generation’s very eyes, and as much as they recognize us, we tend not to recognize them. My uniform is something I take pride in, but probably not as much as past Veterans.

This Holiday season I have been confused about my life’s direction. I always have wondered what I’ll do next and what I should be doing. When I got home from shopping I had my future on my mind. To my amusement I opened up a piece of chocolate and inside the wrapper was a message that read, “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”

Thankfully, I realized that from an old Veteran greeter at Wal-Mart, who for me was “exactly where he was supposed to be.”

Like every Christmas, I find myself incredibly fortunate to have the material items that I have and the close friends and family around me. This Christmas I am particularly blessed to realize my dream of seeing my father realize his. I am blessed because of the country I live in and the people who have come before me to keep it that way.

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