I met Brian and Rachael a few weeks ago
on a Caribbean cruise I took with my mom.
Before I even noticed Brian's leg,
I was struck by the obvious adoration between this couple.
Rachael just glowed in Brian’s presence
and seemed to have a protective nature about her.
Brian definitely looked like a man in love,
but there was also a certain sadness and hesitation about him.
They were both settled into sun chairs on the pool deck
when I first saw them.
A few minutes later when he moved his beach towel
I saw Brian’s leg.
It was a curious contraption of metal and sockets
with a brown sandal fixed to a plastic bare foot.
Mom and I happened to be sitting pool side
a few chairs from Brian’s when the cruise director announced
a "Mr. Sexy Legs" competition.
I had no sooner turned to my mom to tell her that I hoped Brian would enter
when I saw Rachael encouraging him to put his name on the list.
He kept shaking it off,
but mom and I supported Rachel with a “thumbs up”
and vigorous motioning for him to get up.
Reluctantly, Brian put his name on the list and got in line.
Almost everyone on the pool deck stood and cheered for him
and people were lined up against the upper deck railing
most of them with their hands in the air clapping for Brian!
At that moment
Brian was our friend,
He was every soldier who didn’t come home
and every soldier who was still there fighting.
We all wiped away tears
as he made his way over to where Rachael was sitting
and gave her a big kiss before getting back in line
to await the judge’s decision.
I spoke with Rachael as we were waiting
and she told me that Brian had lost his leg only seven months ago
and that he was still insecure about learning how to move around
in his prosthetic leg
which he got for Christmas.
This cruise was her way of celebrating how far he'd come
and to lift his spirits.
His heroism inspired in us
a new appreciation for the price of freedom.
We shed tears as this American hero
took several steps toward healing himself,
but what we didn’t count on
was that with each step he took,
something in all of our hearts began to heal as well.
Many of us were brought face to face
with the silliness of our own insecurities
as we watched this soldier face his in a big way.
After what we saw on that day
how could any of us ever again say
that we can’t do something out of fear
or because of the risk of embarrassment?
Courage inspires courage.
Like so many intangibles
the bond between people who have gone through similar tragedies
is as evident when they talk to each other
as it would be if they were tied together by a big unbreakable rope.
When you witness people with this kind of bond,
it is undeniable.
It is also essential to our emotional well- being
to relate to other people on the deep level of shared experiences.
Hearing “I’ve been there son”
from war veterans must have soothed a part of Brian
like nothing else could.
In the middle of the Caribbean Sea
amidst steel drum bands
and umbrella drinks,
I watched a broken man be put back together
one "thank you" at a time
and I watched a hero
make better Americans of us all.