Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why Do You Need Two Wreaths?

“Why Do You Need Two Wreaths?”
Copyright 2013 by Lori-Ann Willey

I usually have a “Veteran Story” to relay after spending half or nearly all day at a Veteran’s hospital with Paul.  Today was no different, though I thought we were going to leave without a story that touched my heart in one way or another.  Today was Paul’s annual physical, and that means once a year, a full day of waiting in one waiting room after another is not only the general rule, but expected.  Today was a “light” day with only eight appointments scheduled.  

After Paul’s last appointment with Judi, the RN of the SCI (Spinal Cord Injury) clinic, we gave hugs and once again thanked her for always being there for us, and not just us, but for the love and attention she gives all her disabled Veteran patients and families.  Judi is an “Unsung Hero” of the SCI clinic, and a remarkable woman to say the least.  A woman who dedicates herself to her patients come Hell or high water.  Once, she had an opportunity to take an amazing job elsewhere, but she did not take the job, because as she told us, ‘I love all these guys.  I know them better than anyone does!  I couldn’t leave.’  

As we exited the elevator on the ground level, I found myself disappointed that I had not yet heard a Veteran’s story.  Of all the waiting rooms we sat in, not one Veteran opened up.  I do not know if it was because it was early in the morning, or just a somber day of reflection.  I will never know, but I do know that I felt that I was the one missing out.   

The exit was just up ahead, when we came to an intersection in the hallway.  Our hallway was to merge into a larger hallway.  We stopped and waited for a few people to stroll on by, and as the last man walked past, I chuckled out to him, “Watch out.  He might take you out!”  I was referring to Paul and his wheelchair, but speaking to the man walking.  He turned and chuckled as he murmured something I could not hear or understand.

We turned the corner and continued down the hallway behind the man, when he stopped and spoke.  He was going to let us go past him.  We smiled and the second he spoke, we stopped to listen to his words.  He spoke with a smile.  He was an older stout man I’d guess to be in his lower 70’s, and like some people when they strike up a conversation, he kind of started mid thought so it took me a couple of sentences to piece together his topic.  This is what he told us:

He once stood in an area where someone was handing out holiday wreaths.  He did not indicate whether they were free, sold, or given after a donation for a cause.  As he stood, he saw a man in a wheelchair.  He noticed that people were stepping in front of him as if he did not exist, yet the Veteran never said a word and never pushed his way through, instead, he sat and patiently waited for his opportunity to approach the wreath giver.  A young Marine in uniform worked his way to the front of the line and asked for two wreaths.  The wreath giver asked, “Why do you need two wreaths?”  The Marine looked up at him, held his pointer finger up in front of him, and said, “Watch.  You’ll see.”  To this, the Marine turned around, walked a few steps back toward the man in the wheelchair, and handed him a wreath.

The older storyteller was now leaning his back against the wall beside us.  He shook his head as he told us the story, and said, “Some people just don’t understand what it is like.  They look at you and then they look beyond.  I always let them go first.  They have earned that rite.”   

Part of me understood the meaning of his story, while another part of me could not help but ponder another thought.  The man spoke in the past tense, and given this man’s age, I wondered if this story took place back in the 1960’s when there was a lot of protests about the Vietnam War, where the Veteran’s who served to protect us were not welcomed back on American soil by many simply because they did not support the war.  Maybe that was the key point the gentle man did not speak of, but did he have to?  Respect is respect, and courtesy is courtesy. 

Remember to thank a Veteran.