This past Tuesday, I was asked to lecture a citizenship class. My friend and colleague Emily thought our students would appreciate hearing about what it’s like to run for office. It was election day, after all, and that seemed like a good idea for a great conversation.
I talked about the practical, day-to-day business of running for office, and then a former student named Alec asked me a profound question. See, he’d read my blog and wanted to hear a bit more about why I felt compelled to run for office. He asked me how my family’s military background shaped my decision. It was complicated then and is now.
Were I to get as simple as can be, I would tell you my mother’s father was a chaplain at the Battle of the Bulge and that his commitment to the twin absolutes of God and Country left a permanent imprint on me. But there is more to it. My grandfather’s righteousness was deeply ecumenical. He was (and is — he’s 95) a dedicated patriot, but I think, first and last, he was most concerned with standing up for truth. Period. It was why he was a soldier, why he was a clergyman, why he did prison ministry. I’ve always admired his character.
My father’s father was a medic in the Pacific. He died when I was almost 1 year old, on the day before my birthday. I’ve no wonder I could have learned a great deal from him as well. Even though I never got to know him, I still learned from his example. After his 28 years of military service, he became a police officer and served his community for almost 20 more years. He started a program to help teach kids traffic safety. He was the police officer who helped out at crosswalks. I don’t have any memories of my father’s father, but I admire his dedication.
My father and three uncles fought in Vietnam. My father’s service shaped him profoundly, and me too. He wasn’t drafted. He chose to stand up, to take a risk in the name of something greater than himself, something too few do often enough. In that way, he was a bit of a square peg in a world of round holes.
Today is Veterans Day. We sometimes celebrate this day with platitudes, the easy things to say and do. But I think we honor veterans best when we don’t take the easy route. They didn’t, after all. Veterans Day deserves more than easy words; and our veterans deserve the deep gratitude that only comes after deep reflection.
We need to do more than celebrate a day. We need to respect those who have served and commit ourselves to the spirit that inspired their service.