Deliberately, each of his withered fingers wrapped around the arms of his wheelchair one by one until the old warrior’s claws trembled.
When Pastor Chuck began to pray, every head bowed and every eye closed. Except mine.
I was watching the man below me and to my right. The way he was fidgeting in his seat had me curious.
The Sunday before Memorial Day, Pastor Chuck invited former and active military to stand. Here and there across the room men and women stood. Younger men and women from recent desert campaigns were quick to their feet. Silver-haired, square-shouldered men from Vietnam stood more slowly. Bald-headed men clutched the seat backs in front of them and arose.
A Few Fuzzy Hairs
That’s when I noticed the man below me and to my right. Sitting hunch-backed in his electric wheelchair. The few fuzzy white hairs on his head swayed by the air conditioning vent above him. The silver tips of his old-fashioned bola tie swayed below his neck as he shifted his weight forward then back again.
He was going to stand with the rest of the soldiers. Then decided not to.
The congregation applauded each member of the military who stood. I saw the man below me and to my right; I applauded him, too. He couldn’t stand, but he deserved my thanks.
Then the pastor reminded us that while honor was due to the servants standing among us, greater gratitude was due to those who gave their lives while wearing our uniform. While the vetererans in the room remained standing, he prayed in memory of the fallen. Every head bowed and every eye closed.
Every Eye Closed
As the prayer began, the man below me and to my right began to fidget in his seat. Deliberately, each of his withered fingers wrapped around the arms of his wheelchair one by one until the old warrior’s claws trembled.
Resting all his weight on his claws, he unfolded his knees and pulled himself up. His back, long bent with age and perhaps with the memories of fallen brothers who had given the last full measure, strained to straighten. It was several sentences into the invocation when, with immense effort, he stood.
He finally stood. With every head bowed and every eye closed. Except mine.
And in that moment, the quality that made this man a hero so long ago made the man below me and to my right a hero once again. The applause of strangers meant little to this man. Then and now his choice was honor before comfort; self-sacrifice above personal glory.
It’s a Memorial Day lesson I won’t soon forget. I’m glad I kept my eyes open.