Most people don’t know that I wanted to go to the military after high school.
There are lots of reason people don’t know, and there are lots of reasons why I did not, but I wanted to go to West Point (the US Military Academy, for those of you not in the know) and then, as I would say I still do now, I had a specific sort of respect for the military. It was neither an unholy reverence nor an unthinking patriotism; it was not deep-seated national insecurity coupled with a desire to hold a rifle; just a curious sort of respect for what the military does actually do for this country, here and abroad.
The thing is, service of that sort, for this country and abroad, is not just limited to flying jets and chasing down terrorists. Service of that sort, of which deserves deep respect and appreciation, is not just limited to the military at all.
Instead, I have learned to see that there are everyday acts of service which are done by everyday people.
In this country we love to use the term “hero” and focus on the “big thing” or the outlier, but I have found it to be more heroic, if one must, to do something, day-in, day-out, that is to say every single day, again and again, without the accolades or the press. People take jobs to support themselves or their families, but also because they find value in what they do, too. They’re not in it for the likes. Therefore, I have a specific sort of respect for:
Teachers and social workers, who in their classrooms and schools across the country, either close to / in New York City, or as far away as Florida and Hawaii, on the day and for many days afterwards, years even, listened, comforted, protected, taught, and cared for so many of the children of this country in ways bullets and body armor cannot. They do that every day, during the school year or in summer school, and they get it done.
Firefighters, the ones who went to Ground Zero to help, many of who lost their lives or have had those lives cut short, but also for the ones who stayed, in their communities, and every day they accept the risk of what their job entails to care for and protect, in their own unique way, the people in their lives, the ones they know personally and even the ones they don’t.
Police officers, nurses, utility workers, air traffic controllers, GIS map technicians, building permit administrators, postal workers, and too many to list in specific, but who day-in, day-out, in ways minor and quiet, whether they where a uniform or not, perform their acts in service to this country. It need not wait until a specific day each year, this one just past or another, and it need not be plastered on the front of a newspaper for each of us in our busy, busy lives to not to just talk about respect or just say “thank you for your service”, but to back up words with deeds, and sentiment with acts.
Ways in which the things you do, or even more importantly, the things you do not do, to express appreciation?
- Hey, helicopter parent about to send an angry e-mail to a teacher about what they “did” to your child? Be honest, your precious handful, Little Johnny, is a little shit sometimes, too – maybe step back and pause and let it pass over?
- Smile at police officer and say good morning; there are some bad apples, but that’s a huge bunch, and they’re not all spoiled
- Your local firefighters need to eat just like you do and maybe you spot them at the check out and they had to leave everything behind to rush off to a call? Do them a solid: pick up those groceries and drop it off to the firehouse – it’s almost less than 10 minutes out of your way
- Don’t yell at nurses. Just don’t, just don’t do it – frustration and tension are endemic to hospitals as air is to breathing. Maybe send a care basket to the station for the midnight shift?
More than specific words, maybe the most important and best thing we can each do is show basic respect and kindness to everyone that crosses your path.
You may not know it, but they could be performing, in their everyday, acts of service for you that make your way of life possible: approving permits or claim, registering you or your child for work or attendance, or even faithfully and painstakingly, over decades, designing and keeping track of the maps that prevented further destruction and damage 16 years ago when too many fools thought it was a great idea to ram two planes into a building and cut everyday lives short to make a statement.
Today, I don’t serve in the military and I don’t believe my job would qualifies as “everyday service.” Or maybe that is just a matter of perspective? If we step back, how many of us could see how our individual jobs contribute to our society?
More of us than we think and more that we each do and can do, every single day, to not take for granted the way of life we cherish and to do our part to ensure the continuance of our civil society.
Let us each perform our service.