A story shared in honor of all who served and defended liberty and freedom.
You can’t help getting loud at these basketball games. You’re either cheering for your son, a nephew, your neighbor’s daughter, a favorite student—or you’re just trying to be heard over that wretched game buzzer. You quickly become friends with the person sitting next to you, understanding that you attend for the same purpose: encouraging a child you love to do his very best.
And you rarely get a name. It doesn’t matter. There’s a certain connection that occurs at a sports event with the people seated in your area. And that’s enough for smiles and stories to be shared.
He wasn’t as loud as everyone else, but he made enough noise to show how proud he was of his granddaughter. We chatted about her for a bit and I spoke about my nephew. The conversation was casual, friendly, and free-flowing. He knew enough about basketball that I figured he must have played a bit in his day.
He looked the age of the “greatest generation.” I had just finished Tom Brokaw’s book with that title and asked him if he had served in the War.
This man, who up until that question had been so transparent and vocal and generous with his words, became silent.
He stared at me and his eyes filled with tears. “Yes,” he said.
And he said no more.
He turned his face away from me and stared at the court. As I usually do with veterans, I thanked him for protecting our country and the world. My voice shook a bit as I said it, realizing what I had triggered. He responded with a nod, but he did not look at me when he made that gesture. In fact, he did not speak with me for the rest of the game.
I too became quiet. Not because of hurt feelings, but out of respect. Once again this man was protecting a fellow citizen. By his silence, he was sparing me from the horrors of war, yet at the same time reliving something unspeakable. “I’ll take it for you,” his silence seemed to be saying.
I wondered where this gentle man had served and what he had experienced. Wherever that war had placed him, he took what it had to give and provided a safe place for me, born into the world almost 20 years later. And for his granddaughter. And for my nephew. And for my son. For us all.
I’ll take it for you.
When the game buzzer brought us both back to the present, I watched as he slowly got up and walked away.
And there was no looking back.