I'm going to tie it all in, I promise.
Today I was minding my own business, eating my burger and curly fries (atherosclerosis in a bag) in the student union, when I noticed there was a large gaggle of people outside, just standing around staring at nothing. Then I saw the sparkly band uniforms and feather hats and brass trumpets, and realized what was going on. Starting my sophomore year of college, my university band began the TAPS project. Trumpet players from the band and community stand spaced across the campus and at 11:11, the first begins to play Taps. As he starts to play the second line, the next trumpeter starts, and so on and so on. This effectively makes a ring around campus with overlapping tunes, and ends where it began with the final note.
How is it possible that one trumpet can sound so regal and lonely at the same time? You tell me. After the song moved out of earshot, everyone remained standing for a couple minutes in silence, until we gradually heard it returning to us, and as we watched the last trumpeter play, I looked around at all the veterans standing next to me, some old, some younger, some crippled, some healthy. I saw all the men from ROTC in their camouflage, and I thought of all the men who had served our country and come back wounded, hurt, mentally scarred, or not come back at all. I thought of all the men that are away from their homes right now.
Then I realized how little I think about them normally.
Honestly, how many times per day, per week, per month does a person (with the exception of those who have a family member currently serving) actually remember the sacrifices of the veterans, and those sacrificing today? And how SAD is that? Here are these courageous people, committing to something bigger than themselves, pledging to do whatever is required of them by their country, regardless of whether they agree or not with the decision. And that, my friends, could be the definition of bravery.
November being the month of thankfulness, this is a good time to point out how lucky we are. Even on the worst day, when my hair looks terrible, I've gotten 2 hours of sleep, I have 4 exams that I'm going to fail, a zit, my car is empty on gas, my bank account is empty, and there is only ramen in my pantry, I have so much more than I could even wish to ask for.
I have the freedom to say what I want, when I want to. I have the freedom to TAKE those 4 exams, and I have the resources and a place to buy some coverup for that zit. I have the freedom to explore the world without too much hassle. I have the freedom to be what I want how I want. Never have I been restricted by my government. Never have I been forced into slavery, put into a specific social class, gone hungry, or been unable to cure my sicknesses. Never have I been forced to fight for something. I have been educated, and given the opportunity to keep educating myself. I have the potential and ability to do anything I want to do with my life. There is so much I personally owe to all the men and women who have served and are serving our country. How much do you owe them?
[insert flashback here]
When I was in Germany, I started to run to relieve stress, get active, and to explore my neighborhood. First of all, I would encourage doing this to ANYONE that wants to study away/travel abroad or live abroad (so long as it's safe). I got to see beautiful tree lined paths, quaint little farms, pretty bridges, and awesome architecture that I would have never seen if I hadn't decided to run. It was a struggle at first, especially because there were so many hills. There was one particular hill that was extremely steep and a killer to run up. But it was the peak of the run and all downhill from there. So I was always on the brink of death running up this hill no matter how in -shape I got.
One day I was in the middle of that terrible hill stretch, red-faced and sweaty, slightly muddy, wanting to pass out in the neighbor's bushes, when a bus pulled up to the bus stop and let off a passenger. This was a young boy, probably only 18, clad in the German military service uniform. Red beret, grey suit. My instant thought was to go and tell him "thanks" for his service. Then, as the thought hit me that I didn't know how to say that in German, I realized where I was. I was not in the United States. I was standing in the middle of a German road, wanting to thank a young German soldier for his service.
I was almost literally stopped in my tracks, because I had this the weirdest feeling come over me. It was almost a physical feeling of luckiness. It sounds silly, but I was completely overwhelmed by that thought, my limbs and face felt tingly (good tingly, not running tingly), I felt a quick rush of blood to literally every body part, sort of like when you walk into a good surprise, like a birthday party. All I could think of was how extremely lucky I was to be in Germany at that exact moment in time. My mother had been in Germany during the 80's when the wall was still intact. She remembers being terrified to cross into East Germany. And before her, how many Americans would have been terrified to travel here? How many dreaded coming here on military service during WWI and II? How many people would've ignorantly hated the German people for the crimes their country had committed? How many would've wanted to thank a kid in a red beret and grey suit?
And here I was. I WANTED to come here. I had done everything in my power to come here, had dreamed about the day I would be in my very place. I had made it happen, and was strong enough to accomplish it. Here I was, standing freely on peaceful and prosperous German soil, with no worries, no restrictions, experiencing firsthand the generosity and kindness of the German people. So why in the world would I be homesick? Why should I be sad or depressed about being here? Why couldn't I make anything happen that I wanted to? I was so struck by the generosity of people that had sacrificed everything to make this world a better place for me, that I knew in my heart how incredibly, indescribably lucky I am.
It was like the world was lifted off my shoulders. Never in my life have I felt so blessed and thankful. Never have I been happier than I was in that moment. I sprinted up the hill like it was nothing, and ran the rest of my track in record time.
I have never experienced runner's high. To this day, I'm still not sure if that is what I was experiencing. They say it's a euphoric, conquer the world feeling, which is pretty similar to how I felt. I can probably blame endorphins for that out of body experience, but I still wonder if I would have come to that point had I not seen the soldier on the bus. I don't know. All I know is, that was one of the most defining moments of my life. And I can thank a German soldier for making it happen.
Veteran's Day is coming up. In fact people, I'm even giving you an entire day's advance warning. How have our veterans impacted your life? What can you do this Veteran's Day to show them how much they have given us?
Although I didn't get to up and personally thank each of those cute old veterans at the TAPS project today, I want to throw out a virtual thank you to them, and to every other person who has ever had the courage to fight for their country. I wish I could tell them all how much they have done for me every day of my life, and not just on Veteran's day. Thank you.