Monday, May 30, 2011

A hero on the pool deck....

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.

We watched several men strut their stuff down the deck.

Some were funny,

some were embarrassing,

but none of them had the impact that Brian did when he his walk began.

At well over six feet tall

I imagine that Brian probably wasn’t very graceful on two legs,

but as he made his way down the deck

with his newly learned gait,

he became more beautiful with each stride.

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,

our son,

our brother,

our husband.

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.

What we originally thought would be good for Brian,

turned out to be an amazing lesson for all of us watching.

We saw a hero whose bravery had remained strong

through the physical battlefield of Iraq

and through the emotional battlefield

of recovery.

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.

Many men in the audience were veterans of past wars.

Their bodies bore the scars that told the stories

of the price of freedom in their own lives.

Grey headed wives stood beside these men,

their scars of worry were better concealed

but still as painful.

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.

Brian received a metal that day for winning the "Mr. Sexy Leg" contest,

but his biggest gift was being embraced by an audience

whose appreciation was evident in their glistening eyes,

their standing ovations,

their hugs and handshakes.

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.

The change in Brian was immediately noticeable.

Over the next few days I rarely saw him alone.

He was always greeted with handshakes

and engaged in conversation.

That hesitancy that I had seen in him before

was replaced by a broad smile,

a head held high

and what looked like pride to me.

Later that week

on the very same pool deck that he had introduced himself

to a ship full of strangers,

Brian got down on one knee

and proposed to Rachael.

She said yes!


n. said...

beautiful story. bawling my eyes out over here reading it!

Lucky Larson's said...

amazing! Thank you for taking the time to share it with all of us.

Marnatha said...

Wow what a great story. I could almost imagine being there. I am forever grateful to those that have defended my freedom.

One day we were in the Dallas airport getting ready for a trip. A whole plane ful of soldiers were walking above us to go through customs. Spontaneously, we all stood and gave them a standing ovation for about 10 minutes. So little we can do to really thank them, but was glad to see their gratitude as they walked by.

Thanks for sharing this.

Michelle said...

Thank you for sharing your story... from all of the military wives, thank you.