A Soldier’s Thirsty Boots

Maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of this because it can happen in every single town in America. A soldier at home on R & R.

She’ll be sliding into the booth next to yours at the restaurant. They’ll be one kid talking about chicken fingers and milkshakes, another child looking for trouble, any kind of trouble. Because please God don’t let my Mom go back to Afghanistan again. And the responsible kid. The eldest. Like an ancient sheepherder. Helping Dad while Mom’s away. Dad will be quiet. But strong. Keeping things going.

If you are exceptionally fortunate, you’ll get a message like the one I got this morning. “It has been a wonderful time home with the family. We’ve spent almost every minute together. The children have grown so much since the last time I saw them 8 months ago. They’ve taken me to church, ballet, jazz/tap, piano, horseback riding, the western wear store (apparently you need cowboy boots and a cowboy hat to ride horses) and many dinners out to eat. And Teresa and I did get to have one date night when I was home.”

You think back to the last time you saw him and it’s blurry. Lost in the fog of emails. But you remember sitting at a bar in the fine southern town just down the street from a bona fide presidential library and a guy comes in, takes the stool next to you, so you start to chat. And the guy knows your soldier too. They went to high school. “This,” says the guy, “This is the man I’d want next to me when the shooting started.”

You nod because you knew that too.

You think about the countless news reports since then and you are simply, unequivocally in awe of his wife because she also listens to the news.

He is almost done with his tour. Only two months left. He will come home in April. Come home for good.

But the flow of military heroes coming back home to take a breath before they go back to fight again will keep coming. You will see them, Know their families. You will, if only for one golden moment, come alive in the connection they provide all of us.

And whatever you decide to do next. Buy the soldier’s child a plate full of chicken fingers and a milkshake, give the man a nod when he’s standing ahead of you in line to buy a tiny cowboy hat, tell the soldier that you’re going to pray for her, don’t just do it—let her know that you’ll do it, send him positive energy, ignore—for just a second—the politics because this one moment is about the soldier, not the connection to the politics, there will be time for that later; or maybe ask if you can buy him a drink or just say “Thank you” out loud. Whatever singularly individual thing you do that lets that soldier rest for a moment, regroup and ‘take off their thirsty boots’ and stay for awhile: watch how what happens when that soldier gets your message. Maybe they’ll get it right that moment. Maybe they’ll get it later. When they need it most.

But when the soldier hears your story, your action, your moment of thanks.

You might find yourself to be even more alive.

2 Responses to “A Soldier’s Thirsty Boots”

  1. Paul Haider Says:

    Roger, this is wonderful. You should post this one again on Veteran’s Day in November. Of course, our country still needs to treat our veterans so much better given the number of soldiers who return from war with PTSD and other severe anxiety disorders.
    Paul Haider, Chicago

  2. Ted Schneider Says:

    We don’t say ‘thanks’ enough to the brave men and women who serve in the military and we should as you mention in any way we can when we have the opportunity. They definitely give up a lot and ask for little in return.

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