The complexity of service
Today is an embodiment of our nation's respect, gratitude, and honor of our veterans, past, present, and future. For me, today prompts a directed and purposeful awareness to service. But, what does service actually mean? Well, this word has several definitions, differentiated by noun, adjective, and verb.
As a noun, the word is defined as "contribution to the welfare of others" (Merriam-Webster, 2015). As a verb, service means "to provide with something that is needed or wanted" (Merriam-Webster, 2015). When defined as an adjective, one definition takes on the literal context of military duties, while others refer to the serving or supplying of trade, delivery, or waiting staff (Merriam-Webster, 2015).
The theme I have concluded comes down to the act of doing something for others. Veterans' Day is intended to represent service men and women specifically associated with the military, and its duties, as it should be. The underlying exploration; however, lies in how the rest of us serve. Some people believe they provide for others through religious offerings and beliefs. Others believe they serve through cheritable donations or philanthropic volunteering. Others, still, hold that they serve through patriotism; supporting and adhering to the morals, principles, and expectation of a united people/nation. There are obviously other contexts of service that people maintain, and none are any more or less correct, accurate, or meaningful than the other. This definition, and its value, are a matter of subjectivity. My invitation to you (and myself) is to ask, "How do you serve?" The answer to which needs to be well thought out, genuine, and authentic.
Some of us may be surprised that we aren't actually serving in the ways we think, or through the channels we tell ourselves and others. There is no harm in stirring things up with a little questioning and exploration. Military veterans often report to me that their service, no matter where it started, shifts to taking care of the person/people next to them in duty. I've heard men and women say that patriotism, and the urge to defend their nation, and its people, led them to the military, but that they believe no one knows or cares what is actually happening during their service. So, they fight/serve for those fighting/serving with them.
When you say "Thank you" to a veteran, do yourself, veterans, and civilians a favor by thinking about what you're truly saying, and what you actually mean. Again, there is no judgment here, nor a right answer. Just give yourself permission to explore from a place of curiousity and growth. Not all veterans feel grateful for the things they've done. Many, in fact, would insist you don't actually know what you're thanking them for. Some veterans and active service men and women are quite proud of their service, and are honored that you show respect and gratitude for their committments. The invitation for introspection is not to ask every person with a military history if he or she feels good about his/her service, but to ask yourself to carefully explore what you're thankful for.
With that said, I'd like to lead by example, and extend my genuine gratitude to men and women who have served for what they believe in, and for taking a stand to defend their fellow soldiers, and the civilians who love them. For better or worse, I am happy to live the life I have in the country I reside. If not for people being wiling to get in the trenches to fight an everlasting war against tyrany, and inhumane treatment of others, we would have a different experience. It is my genuine and deepest hope that we will, someday, realize that killing each other (or sending others to do it on our behalf) is better replaced with civility, understanding, tolerance, and compassion. Until that day, may our active military and veterans remain safe, and get the help they need when returning to the civilian life.