Thursday, January 3, 2013

-6 Degrees below Zero with Embedded Shrapnel: My conversation with a Veteran

-6 Degrees below Zero with Embedded Shrapnel:  My conversation with a Veteran
Copyright 2013 by Lori-Ann Willey

I am not much of a “social bug” type person, and quite honestly, I would rather avoid people 99% of the time, but that is just my ways and me.  However, when a Veteran starts to tell of a personal experience, I could sit and listen to THEM talk all day long.  The following stems from such a conversation just this morning. 

 A Veteran sat down beside me and started up a conversation.  The TV in this room was on the news channel and the topic was of politics.  I cringed inside myself when he spoke to me of the topic.  I never discuss two topics in particular.  One is religion, and the other is politics.  I did not want to sound rude, but I did acknowledge his commentary as I appreciated him having his opinions.  After a couple of sentences, I think he realized that topic was not going to get very far with me, so he changed it up a bit. 

The next topic was about how the -6 degree temperature outside penetrates into his body parts that still have shrapnel lodged from the Vietnam War.  This got my attention fully.  There are some Veteran’s who openly talk of their experiences, and when they start talking to a total stranger about those experiences, and I happen to be that stranger, the rest of the world ceases to exist to me.  My eyes and ears focused completely on the words of this unfamiliar person sitting next to me.

I turned my head and looked through his somewhat thick glasses and into his dark brown eyes.  I saw kindness, and I saw gentleness within him…an inner peace if you will.  He wanted to talk, and I wanted to listen.  He continued by telling me how some people make snide comments about his disability, and his benefits from military.  How some consider it an easy life to receive compensation simply because he served his country.  This, despite becoming disabled during wartime?  How it is “cheating” to receive money without having to “work” for it.  This raised my eyebrows in disbelief, but I knew the man was telling the truth…even Paul and I have experienced such comments over the years.  It is sad that people have such a mentality to think that Veteran’s are thought of in such a low light at times.  Not to mention how very ignorant some are about soldiers and their experiences, though even if they did not experience war itself, living a military lifestyle has many challenges of its own.  It is FAR from an easy lifestyle, and by no means leisurely. 

This gentle speaking man took in a deep breath and smiled.  I am sure my eyes were begging to hear more, but I would never ask, though I always hope the story continues.  We were in a small waiting room.  Paul’s ticket number was 93, and this man came in a ticket or two later, so as numbers were being called, both the man and I knew our chat would be a short one, and in times like this, I could have sat there the entire day listening to this man talk of his experiences.  Unfortunately, our conversation had to be brief...three or four minutes at best.  He continued to talk and this is what I learned from him.

The man started his military career as “an entry level soldier” (as he called it) in the Vietnam War, and worked his way up to become an officer by the time he retired as a nurse some 22 years later.  He spoke of the casualties around him, and how each of them was a friend.  It was not hard to hear the solemn-ness in his voice.  He agreed that was something one cannot forget, ever.  I couldn’t help but think of how helpless he must have felt watching his friends dying around him during battle…all the horrors he must have seen…the emotions he must have felt.  To me, it is unimaginable.  I wondered how one could seemingly carry on a “normal” life after experiencing such things?  Yet, this man seems to be doing rather well, but his low and gentle voice told me there was a lot of pain lingering within him still.  I glanced at his eyes once more.  They were deep and full of stories.  I wanted to hear them all.  It was easy to tell that each of his words clung to a vision that without experiencing it for myself I could never understand.  He continued to speak with carefully chosen words, and somehow a sense of grace was attached to each syllable.  His verbal tone seemed almost God-like.  Like an inner peace that he was forced to find…the alternative probably not a good one.

By the time Paul finished up with the clerk, this kind man knew that I was going to leave his side, but I heard a little more as I waited for him to finish speaking.  After the Vietnam War, the man had spent something like 11 years in the Navy before deciding that he wanted to be a nurse.  Is there any wonder why he chose that profession?  To me, there is no doubt.  I sat there for a few seconds waiting patiently for him to finish his sentence.  When he stopped talking, I scooted up in my chair and turned to face him.  We both smiled.  There was peacefulness in his eyes.  I gave him a wink, and thanked him for the chat.  We bid each other a nice day, and as I stepped away, he called after me, “Happy NEW Year”.  To this, I stopped dead in my tracks and turned to face him.  “Happy New Year to you, too.”

It IS a new year!  Right then, it put the past 1 ½ years of our chaotic life into perspective.  It is the time to make resolutions, changes, to better oneself, to make promises to oneself, to have a new outlook for the year ahead, etc.  This man, though for a few short moments taught me an invaluable lesson in life, and put everything into perspective FOR me.

I wished I had asked the man for his name so I can say, “Thank You”.  This man holds a lot of wisdom, but wisdom comes from experiencing life’s ups and downs and learning valuable lessons along the way.  I am forever telling my kids, “Live and Learn”, “Upward and Onward”, and take each failure and turn them into positives, as we all need to fail in order to learn how to succeed.  We all need the bad in life to appreciate the good.  If this man can find a peace within himself, after all he experienced in the Vietnam War, I can find it within me, and you can find it within you.  Life is experience and perspective based.  If we all remember that, we will be just fine.

Though  many of you who have been following my blogs now for a few years, you already know that I’m a sap, and when it comes to my experiences in speaking with our Veteran’s, I am even more of a sap.  This blog talks of my experience today.  Please go to this link to read about another Veteran experience that I wrote about last summer