EDITORS NOTE: A portion of this article was initially run on November 11, 2014
A year ago, I used this space as my first ever opportunity to share my story. It was a story all about why and how I struggled to deal with being a veteran, specifically as it related to having a day where that status was celebrated.
While it is a story that holds value and is worthy of sharing, and I, therefore, encourage you to go and read it, it is not a story in need of re-telling. I no longer need the catharsis that came from the simple act of sharing my struggle with the universe at large. I'm squarely back on the carnival ride that is life and don't have the feeling of being an outlier simply for having served my country.
Then, I was still feeling a bit like an island. I was officially on year three of actually celebrating Veteran's Day. I was also still someone who would publicly downplay and deflect any praise or thanks thrown my way, and then privately decry all those individuals who had offered me such a seemingly empty "reward" for the effort I put forth.
Today, that guy doesn't exist anymore. I now have several other staff members on the site - Walt Austin, Justin Mears, and Brian Mason - who are military veterans, which is a big help via giving me a little bubble inside the bigger site for all of my dumb Army stories to live.
Today, I understand that while yes, some people will toss out a simple "thank you for your service" as a lazy attempt at appearing to have ‘done their duty' in honoring veterans, the vast majority are doing so simply because they are convinced that any other gesture they could possibly think of would in no way be adequate to express how they feel in a way that the recipient would consider sincere and worthy.
To that I will simply say to all you civilians out there: I assure you that you are allowing the wrong person to decide the adequacy, sincerity or worthiness of your actions.
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This will be my fourth annual Veteran's Day celebration, and it gets a little bit better every year. Every day it becomes more manageable from the simple act of having lived more of my life, such that my service time becomes an increasingly smaller portion of who I am as a person. I do not say that to downplay or diminish, it's just simple math.
With all of that time and knowledge behind me, I have a much stronger understanding of being a veteran, connecting with those who aren't, and celebrating a day of recognition that I have earned (along with thousands of others, most of whom made much greater sacrifices than I). So I'm taking a minute to share with you how to make it a good Veteran's Day for those who are being celebrated.
Number One - Be genuine in your thanks, even if you are being generic. Do not say (or post on your Facebook, or on Twitter) "Happy Veteran's Day!" to anybody. This is not Halloween or Valentine's Day, and you should not cheapen things by celebrating and acknowledging the day as much as you are the people that day is meant to honor.
Think about the efforts put forth by those being honored, and try to return the favor by putting some effort into your attempt to honor them.
Number Two - If you want to go a step beyond that, reach out to a veteran you know. You don't have to get crazy with it; you don't need to make some epic attempt to try and relate to them or to understand what they've been through or anything like that.
You just need to listen. It doesn't matter if they want to talk about their military service or not, they'll appreciate the fact that someone wants to hear what they have to say.
Number Three - If they do choose to share service-related stories, it's o.k. if you do nothing more than sit there and absorb, as long as you are genuinely listening and they can see your attention is held.
One of the hardest parts of serving was that those stories that seemed unshareable felt so heavy; eventually, all it really took was a large volume of sharing to distribute that weight.
Maybe you can be the person who gives them one more repetition of storytelling to get them a little further from "I've never told that to anyone" and a little closer to "that thing that happened one time."
Number Four - Last but not least, let everyone else know that this is how it is done. Give those veterans even a few minutes of your time, and give them every single undivided second of those minutes. I promise you will have made their day, whether you get where they are coming from or not.
In closing, I send out a heart-felt note of gratitude to everyone who served alongside me, before me and after me in the name of defending the freedoms we have as Americans. Know that at least one person out there will never forget what you gave up so that others could have more.
If you have lost someone who served, I hope you take today to think of them and their unselfish service fondly. If you know someone who is currently serving, find a way to say thank you so that you can brighten the life of someone else for even one day.
P.S. Feel free to send a tweet to @Doctor_Nicolas, @jmears26, @BrianMasonLol, or @AUTigerGSUEagle if you want to be lazy and thank us for being badass.