It was a few weeks ago, early evening. The air was crisp, the temperatures mild, and it was a perfect night for a stroll through the blooming desert.
My family and I had just left Baskin Robbins with our favorite of 31 flavors piled atop sugar cones.
We decided to eat our ice cream while we walked around the outdoor shopping center, and as we walked and laughed, the kids climbed every rock and wall they could find!
Our hearts were merry and light.
Then I saw something that brought it all to a halt.
There was an older man, in his 70s or 80s, who had stopped dead in his tracks. He had just come out of the grocery store, and his cart was piled high with food. Yet, there he stood....frozen in the middle of the parking lot.
I knew something was desperately wrong. His body language told me so.Then I saw him stoop over....
I pointed him out to Shane, and said, "We need to see if he needs help! Honey, something is wrong..he's walking away from his basket full of groceries. He's leaving them right there in the middle of the parking lot! We need to go see what he needs!"
It all happened so quickly. All four of us fell into step and headed right for the man.
A million thoughts were running through my head.
Was he having a heart attack? A stroke?
Did he lose his wallet?
Was the basket too hard to push?
What in the world was wrong?
Then I saw it.
I realized what had happened to him.
My heart raced.
My eyes filled with tears.
And I knew in a moment that my family would be there for him.
We'd help this dear man in any way that he'd let us.
You see, the reason he had stooped down....
The reason he had stopped dead in his tracks....
The reason he was leaving all of his groceries in the middle of the parking lot...
was because he had found an American flag lying on the filthy ground, and in that moment, taking care of her became vastly more important to him than anything else he needed to do.
I wish you could have seen how lovingly this gentleman handled her, how gingerly he lifted her from the oil-stained ground into his caring hands.
Oh, how he looked at Old Glory and treated her with such love, such tenderness.
Looking into his eyes as he held the dirty, tire-marked flag, I could imagine the thoughts running through his head...
It was as though, as he surveyed each dirty stripe, each oil-stained star, he was remembering another friend, another comrade in arms, whom he had lost in battle.
"Sir, is there anything we can do to help you?" I asked.
He paused a moment, as though trying to read whether or not we would treat his flag with the same respect he had for her, and then without really looking at us, he proceeded,
"I've got to take this flag inside. Someone just threw it out!"
"We can do that for you, sir. If you'll let us have it, we'll take care of it."
"It's not supposed to be treated like this," he said, as he tried in vain to clean the flag with his handkerchief.
"Yes, sir. We agree."
Then he lifted his head, taking his eyes off of the flag for the first time, and looked us in the eyes and asked, "Will you clean it up?"
"Yes, sir. You have our word on it. We'll wash it, and then we'll hang it properly."
"Good...that would be good," he said, still in deep thought about his flag, and likely trying to determine how anyone could have thrown her into a parking lot, to be trampled.
"Sir, may I ask you, did you serve?"
"Yes ma'am, I did. Special Forces."
"Was it in Korea?"
I have a dear friend whose father served in Korea. He calls it the forgotten war.
The next time you meet a gentleman in his 70s - 80s, whom you know served, ask him if it was in Korea. You won't believe the appreciation that will shine from his eyes, a thank you for your recognition.
At that point, I looked to Caedmon and Brennan and said, "Children, what do we tell our veterans?"
"Thank you, sir. Thank you for fighting for our freedom," Caedmon said.
"Thank you, sir. Thank you for serving, thank you for our freedom," Brennan added.
He stood, quiet. He looked Shane over real well, and then he gave me a good visual evaluation, still trying to determine if we were genuine, it seemed.
From what I could see from where I stood, I'm positive that his dusty gray eyes were watering behind his glasses.
Then he said, in a kind but firm voice, "You all have done a good job. A really good job."
"Thank you, sir. We want our children to know that their freedom comes with a price."
"Yes, a high price...a very high price," he confirmed, still shaking his head over the plight of his flag.
We spoke for a few more minutes, and Shane and I thanked him too. Then we parted ways.
He returned to his groceries, and we left with the treasure that he had entrusted to us.
The flag sat on top of the washing machine for a few days, and each day my children would remind me, "Mommy, we have to wash it. We have to take care of it. We promised the veteran!"
So we did. We ceremoniously washed the old flag. We sprayed her with lots of stain remover, and we washed her on the delicate cycle with our best laundry soap.
Even after lots of work to her, many of the tire marks and stains remain.
The reminders of someone's carelessness just won't come out.
Regardless, she now hangs proudly over Shane's work bench.
We see her every day, and she's been a source of many rich conversations about our friend the Korean War Veteran, and about our freedom.
I wonder if the kindly gentleman has any idea what a rich lesson he gave to our kiddos that day?
Oh goodness, he gave it to all four of us, really! And now, he's giving it to you...
I wonder if he has any idea how thankful we are for the sacrifice he paid? For the continual sacrifices paid by our service men and women, and their families?
"Thank you" just doesn't seem enough.
Will you thank a veteran today? Would you please step outside of your comfort zone and tell a veteran, or a serviceman or woman how much you value their sacrifice?
Yes, you'll feel awkward. But do it anyway!
Think about how much they've had to step outside of their comfort zones.
That should help.