Technically it’s December 1st, but I haven’t gone to bed to end November 30th yet. This month filled with thanksgiving has come to a close, but that doesn’t mean that we stop being grateful for our blessings.
I had an experience this evening that reminded me of this. After work, the organization I work for joined with other local organizations for the annual Christmas tree lighting festivities. We had a table set up with crafts for kids to make, and I helped a co-worker supervise the table. There was a stage with performances and an emcee, and suddenly my ears perked up to what he was saying. “…the children and families of our fallen heroes. Please welcome them as they are escorted into the square.” My attention was diverted and my co-worker graciously said, “Malori, why don’t you go over there so you can see better.” So I stood close to where the families were walking in, and the crowd began clapping. The military families were in Dallas this weekend as part of the Snowball Express, a charity program for the children of fallen military heroes, and they were attending the tree lighting festivities as the opening event.
As I clapped and watched the families walk in, I wondered what their stories were. I saw moms holding the hands of their young children, and teens walking quietly beside their living parent. Some of the moms had glistening eyes, and my heart ached for them as I thought about why they were here: they had husbands who were killed in action. These children were growing up without one of their parents (most of them being their fathers, since more men than women serve) because they gave their lives in service to our country. As one of the moms walked by with her children, our eyes met for a couple seconds, and in that instant I could read her sadness. I hoped that my eyes were saying, I am so sorry for your loss. Your husband is a true hero. I certainly was feeling that.
I went back to the craft table, and soon, some of the Snowball Express kids began coming by our table. I watched as a girl, probably 10-12 years old, intently made a reindeer ornament. Her grandfather, who was her guardian on the trip, stood by patiently as she worked. The girl had such a sweet, innocent face, her strawberry-blonde hair braided perfectly, her demeanor reserved….and I wondered about who she had lost and what their story was. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have your dad killed in combat. The closest I can come to that is imagining what it would be like for my future kids if something happened to The Warrior. But imagining is not the same as knowing.
I had a conversation with a Gold Star wife who had accompanied her daughter, and she was so nice. I told her how emotional it was to see everyone walking in and knowing that they all had lost a loved one….and how I so admire and respect their families. I shared that my fiance is in the Army, and we connected over having (or in her case, having had) a significant other in the service, and she wished us luck. She explained that having the public recognize their families’ sacrifices is a two-sided coin: on one hand, it is so wonderful to be appreciated and recognized, but on the other, when that recognition is given, the wounds are opened up again…and the memories come flooding back. It has been four and a half years since her husband had died, but it is still really tough. I had to force tears from coming to my eyes, and I wished that I could do something for her. As she left, I gently squeezed her arm and said, “Thank you for your service.” She smiled and said, “Thank you so much for what you guys are doing here. It helps the kids so much. We really appreciate it.”
But I don’t deserve that thanks. Those Gold Star families are the ones that deserve it….we, the American public, need to be showing them our gratitude for their loved ones’ sacrifices. It’s so easy to get caught up with silly day-to-day things that are “stressful”….it’s so easy to think “woe is me, my situation is harder than so-and-so”….it’s so easy to not appreciate the little things in life….it’s so easy to not be consciously thankful for the people we love. Yes, we all go through rough patches in our lives. I won’t lie and say that deployment, for example, is easy. It IS hard, and yes, being a military family has its very unique challenges in comparison to civilian families. It’s something you can only understand if you’ve been there.
But are we getting TOO caught up in this mindset? How often do we forget that there are military families who don’t have their hero with them anymore? I’m sure they would gladly go through 10 more grueling deployments as long as it meant their service member came home alive in the end. Do we forget that we’re blessed to have our hero on this earth with us, even if we’re apart physically or are going through a tough period? There certainly are times that I’m not as grateful as I should be.
Seeing and interacting with the Gold Star families tonight reminded me once again what is truly important. It reminded me of what gratitude is. It reminded me to not take anything good for granted. Thank you so much to those families who have sacrificed. America is eternally grateful, for it is because of your heroes that we can remain free.