Gratitude: the state of being grateful: thankfulness

It’s fitting that gratitude is defined as a state of being, rather than a defined action. Thankfulness instead of giving thanks.

Four years ago, I would have told you that I was thankful for the men and women who serve our country. I was grateful for their sacrifice. What I really meant was that I was so glad there were people who were willing to sleep in tents in the sand for a cause I was uncertain about, because I sure as hell wasn’t willing to do it. Thank God for “those people”. What a terrible job.

My Papa and my Uncle were in WWII and Vietnam, respectively, and I thought I knew all about the military. I read the letters home. I couldn’t imagine the fear, the loneliness. I couldn’t image how hard it was on my Grandmothers. Both left with no information as to the safety and whereabouts of men they loved.

I didn’t have a clue. And I will never understand what military life is like. My Papa and Uncle served our country honorably and came home. They were forever changed by what they had experienced, but they made it back. They settled back into their civilian lives.

I never knew anyone in the military. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would choose that life. Moving every few years, often to places you’d never choose to live. The constant threat that you could be deployed to the farthest ends of the earth for reasons sometimes difficult to understand.

Then we moved to a military neighborhood and over the past few years, I’ve gotten to know people in every branch of the military. I can walk in most of my friends’ houses and, in a glance, see all the places “home” has meant for them. From Kansas, to Korea, to Kandahar, their hearts have been all over this country and planet. Almost all our friends have spent time at war. Some took years to completely come home. Talking to my girlfriends about those times is absolutely heart breaking. One told me, “When he came off the plane, I realized I hadn’t taken a deep breath the entire time he was gone.” Another, “I stayed up watching CNN 24 hours a day until my parents came to visit and found that I hadn’t slept in days. I kept thinking if I could just see David Bloom (who was embedded with her husband’s unit), then my husband was ok.” Then I learned from the kids about all the missed milestones. Missed birthdays, first steps, first words, first days of kindergarten, first communions, events that will never happen again.

I can never imagine being the boots on the ground. But I also cannot imagine enduring what my friends endure. “Keeping the home fires burning” doesn’t begin to cover it. It means always knowing that no matter how great the school, the neighborhood, the friends, “home” is a temporary place. Never knowing when you’ll have to pack up your life and make it somewhere else. It means being a single mom. It means having half your heart in far off places. It means keeping your composure for your tiny children when daddy disappears from Skype and you hear the sirens. It means always being support staff.

The military is a way of life. A state of being. Not just a war. Not just the joyous homecomings that you see on TV.

Why do they do it? I have learned that these families, my friends, carry the same pride, the same values, the same love for their country that the boys who stormed the beach at Normandy carried in their hearts.

They make the sacrifice every day. It is a process. A state of being that we on the outside will never understand.

We reap the benefits of their state of being. We always have. From Yorktown to Kabul. We live the way we live in this incredible country because of their sacrifice. On this Memorial Day and every day, we should express our thankfulness for what they do. What we, ourselves, are unwilling to do. Gratitude.

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