I attended the Veterans Day program at school with my daughter today. Twenty men—and they were all men—gathered around the class and one by one told about their military service. We clapped for each one as they stood to be honored. One lost a leg. One reminded us of those who lost their lives. One received a standing ovation for his Purple Heart, won as a paratrooper over VietNam followed by eleven months in a hospital. I watched, deep in my own reverie about my dad who was raised to manhood by the US Marine Corps . When I was very young, he served the Tennessee National Guard during the Civil Rights movement. I didn’t realize how proud I was of my father’s service until we buried him, until the Marine Guard handed my mother the flag. I thought about my friends Edith and Jean who were decorated veterans. Edith served her country as a nurse in North Africa during WWII. Jean was awarded a bronze star for her service as an army nurse in the South Pacific. We may not have recognized women’s service in the line of combat, but these women would have told you how every day of their service was a battle and how hard it was to tell where the combat was and was not. What I’m about to say is not to disparage those who served in any way. So understand, I have heart and skin in this game.
Purple hearts are awarded to those who lost life, limb, or health in the line of duty, for making the sacrifice of one’s self in the danger of doing one’s duty. Those who are awarded purple hearts deserve the applause of fifth graders on Veterans day, the standing ovations in the gym assembly. What I wonder is what would it be like if we awarded purple hearts to people who live their every day lives in the line of duty, making sacrifices of self, who walk wounded but courageously through dangers and difficulty in life. What if there were a heart we pinned on:
- The dad who is raising his daughter with congenital muscular dystrophy alone?
- The child who faces bullying at school every day, but keeps on going?
- The young woman with schizophrenia and bipolarity who continues to manage her symptoms every single day, so that she can go to school, work at a job, be an auntie hero to her nieces and nephews?
- The mother who just had her SNAP cut and is figuring out how to put food in front of her children for the rest of November, because by the middle of the month the food is gone?
- The parents of children with disabling conditions: Down Syndrome, Dystrophies, ChildhoodCancers, Cystic Fibrosis, Autism….children who might not have lived at all in another day and age, children who might have been institutionalized, or given enough pain medicine to die peacefully? How about parents who live only for this day with their child, knowing how unlikely it is that their child will live to adolescence or adulthood?
- How about those who sacrifice what others might consider their well-earned and deserving self-indulgence in retirement in order to fill a dream of service to others?
- How about the child who sacrifices his popularity in order to befriend a bullied child? To stand up against the crowd?
- The person who battles a life with chronic illness, whether it be mental illness or chronic pain, and continues to get out of bed every day and face the world?
- The woman or man who decides to leave an abusive relationship to find safety for children?
- The grandchild or neighbor who chooses to report elder abuse against a friend or neighbor?
My point is this: Life requires courage. What would it be like if we all recognized the courage in one another, the difficulties that others live with and overcome? What would it be like if we honored all of those who have been wounded in the line of life’s duties? You might protest, saying, “Don’t cheapen our military veteran’s sacrifices.” I say, all boats rise with the tide. I wonder if we might honor all sacrifices, in war and in peace, and the courage it takes so many people to live “in the line of duty” to neighbor and to God?