By: Mike Tighe
Elderly folks are the punch lines of jokes galore about slow driving and blocking traffic, or holding up the grocery line, or being roadblocks in our daily lives because they just don’t move fast enough.
Well, consider the following alternative possibilities this Veterans Day, the next time you view an older man or woman as an inconvenience or a stumbling block during your daily errands.
The Next Time: You experience a rush of road rage because you are behind a hesitant and slow elderly driver on the interstate, a man so shriveled with age that you can’t even see his head above the headrest, consider the possibility that, as a young man, he sat tall and strong as he maneuvered a U.S. Army tank across the desolate battlefields of Europe under the command of Gen. George S. Patton.
The Next Time: You are chafing because you are behind a woman holding up the checkout line as her gnarled hands struggle to grasp the coins in her purse, consider the possibility that, as a young Army nurse, those self-same hands nimbly and gently nursed the wounds of a dying soldier, providing his only comfort in his final moments in a strange land, far from hearth and home.
The Next Time: You get riled because you are stalled in an airplane aisle behind an old man who is struggling to put his luggage in the overhead rack, consider the possibility that, decades ago, he was one of the few pilots at Pearl who was able to run to his plane under catastrophically deadly enemy fire and get airborne to answer the Japanese onslaught.
The Next Time: You get angry waiting for an old gentleman to get on an elevator to descend because the delay might make you miss a meeting, consider the possibility that, as a muscular young lad barely out of his teens, he descended on a parachute behind enemy lines, under withering fire from Nazi troops, to fight for your freedom.
The Next Time: You silently ridicule an old man struggling to exercise, although he is barely able to walk, as he goes through the motions of running on the same path you zip along on, consider the possibility that he once resolutely struggled for his life as he was starved, taunted and tortured during the 60-mile Bataan Death March, barely surviving that ordeal while thousands of his colleagues fell dead along the way.
The Next Time: Your stomach growls, and your lip snarls, as an old fella in a cafeteria line holds up the show as he puzzles over whether to take the chicken or the beef, consider the possibility that he once was a strapping young lad pondering the chipped beef offered in a crude mess hall in a foreign land as he dreamed of Mom’s home cooking.
The Next Time: You look down on what appears to be a bum sleeping fitfully on a bench late at night, consider the possibility that he once was a young man who vigilantly served night guard duty in South Korea, missing his young wife and new baby he hadn’t even seen yet.
The Next Time: You sneer in ridicule as you pass a disheveled, unshaven and apparently unshowered, man holding a placard proclaiming, “Homeless Gulf War vet; anything will help,” consider the possibility that he is, indeed, a vet who has fallen on hard times instead of assuming he is a scam artist conning you. And give him a high-five and a 5-dollar bill, just in case.
The Next Time: You honk derisively and scornfully at a one-legged man in a wheelchair struggling to cross the intersection after the light has changed, consider the possibilities that he lost that leg in an unpopular war in Vietnam, and that he faced nothing but derision and scorn when he returned home from an unpopular war.
Such possibilities are worth pondering these days, when we sometimes grate at the men and women of what has been called the Greatest Generation, the one that fought impossible odds and daunting challenges under primitive conditions to provide for a free nation in which we enjoy conveniences beyond their wildest dreams. And we take that convenience, and those providers, for granted.
Especially on Veterans Day, when we owe them big time for our better times.
Roadblocks? Hardly. These senior citizens paved the road of protection for the freedoms we enjoy today.
Inconveniences? Certainly NOT. They guaranteed the life of opportunities that bless us.
Instead of becoming irritated and impatient, the next time we encounter these heroes, we should extend our hands, and shake theirs, in thanks for their service to their country. And to us.
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