I’m sure today will be a day filled with patriotism, elation, tears, healing and closure. A day that we all reflect on what changed for us, what we took from that fateful day. There will always be horrific pictures in our minds so that every time we hear 9/11 we can’t quite purge them, even now, ten years later.
Twitter is hopping, the news are broadcasting new views, new thoughts, old hurts vindicated.
My post won’t be much different, except that I can only speak from my own heart. And as we all know, each heart grieves and rejoices differently.
My family has a long line of military background. My Grandmother, grandfather, father, brother and now my son all served or are serving in a military form. I cry at movies when our soldiers are hurt, I stand and still get goosebumps when I hear the Pledge of Allegiance or Star Spangled Banner. I check the lists of our soldiers killed in action or missing in action and rejoice when some of them come home. I fly a flag out in our front yard and have taught my children what it means and the liberty we have living under that flag and the cost to others who gave us this way of life.
As some of you know, my oldest son who is in the Army, recently had a life altering occurence. Doctors found an AVM inside his brain, and long-story-short, a year of treatments and one 9-1/2 brain surgery later, his only remaining issue is some sight loss in both eyes.
I was amazed by his spirit and determination…
I was lucky he came through…
I am lucky to have him…
And I am lucky to have been given the chance to walk the halls of the National Navy Medical center in Bethesda, Maryland. Today reaffirms what I took away from that wonderful hospital and the true meaning of the American spirit.
I want to tell you a story…
We arrive at 6:00am and are greeted by two men standing at the front door. They ask if we need help and we tell them my son’s name. Soft spoken and with an understanding smile, they give my family and I directions to the ICU desk. Tall glass windows reveal a beautifully simple garden, snow-capped arborvitae bushes, and odd angled trees pruned to grow inside this garden walled in by the numerous wings of the building. In front of these windows are flags, one from every state lined up to span the length of windows.
My heart is in my throat as I pass a beautiful bronze statue of a medic carrying an injured soldier on his shoulder.
We take an elevator up a few floors, I can’t remember how many, and are directed down a long hallway. A ship bell rings and we chuckle in unison as a voice announces ‘new baby arriving’ over the intercom. The walls are covered with pictures of flags, soldiers, and beautiful landscapes but what catches my attention are the hundreds and hundreds of cards, pictures and posters sent in from schools, churches, families and other anonymous people to support our troops.
We turn a corner, looking for my son’s room, and I’m suddenly facing something I never could have prepared myself for.
Every doorway revealed a new horror. The halls lined with wheelchairs. Crutches and bandages, tubes and masks. But it’s the soldiers that crush me from the inside out. Missing limbs, head injuries, scars right out of nightmares. They walk the halls, sit up in chairs, work with therapists at every turn. I’m unashamed to say my heart broke wide open and bled all over my soul in that moment. I think I may have grabbed my mother’s hand at that point and closed my eyes for some of the walk. I’m not sure how I saw the number to my son’s room, my eyes blurred by tears I didn’t bother to contain.
The rest of the day was a blur of events and I remember being led into my son’s room after his surgery.
In my disconnected state, I’m sure I missed more. My son was going to be fine, I cried my tears and took turns sitting at his side as he recuperated. What was amazing, was the power of what I was surrounded by, and how it slowly infiltrated my foggy awareness. I know I spoke to people. Soldiers, family members, doctors, nurses, chaplains… Too many for me to recall now. I was stopped at different turns as people I vaguely recall asked after my son’s well-being.
I started to notice not the horrific injuries the soldiers around me suffered, but their smiles and laughter.
And then I met a young man. Handsome, young, only 20 yrs old. He was my son’s roommate. He’d lost a leg, the use of one arm and had severe damage to his lungs. Roadside bomb in Afghanistan. He couldn’t hear well and his memory was – off. But he smiled, offered us some of the chocolates lined up in boxes next to his bed, and asked US how WE were holding up. He told us that all he wanted was to get back to his boys. And his boys were his soldiers, his brothers, his purpose.
Even after everything he’d been through, he wanted to go back. Wanted to continue to serve. My god, I thought, haven’t you given enough. Above my son’s bed was a picture of a dawn-lit flag billowing in the wind. It’s caption read, ‘Some gave all…’
I experienced this young man’s determination, drive and strength at every turn in the days I walked the halls of that hospital. Soldier after soldier that offered a smile and an encouraging word to my son and myself. The encouragement and support our soldiers received and their willingness to help out their fellow soldier gave me such inspiration and pride I floated through the days in a bubble of amazement to be a part of something so beautiful and reaffirming.
I don’t know where most of those young men and women are today. I don’t know if they survived, left the military, went on to serve again… But whatever they are doing, I know this. No one can ever put value on what a person gives to keep a country safe, nor thank them enough for their service both home and abroad. The men and women putting themselves in the line of danger to keep what happened on 9/11 from ever happening again, are heroes.
Today we get to breathe a bit easier thanks to the sacrifice of so many.
Thanks to the bravery of those Navy Seals who crushed a living threat.
Thanks to the indomitable American spirit that brings us back to our feet time and time again no matter how often we’re knocked down.
Say a prayer. Be thankful. There is little as special as being able to call yourself an American citizen.