Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Thank A Vet

Exertec Health and Fitness Center, Napa, California, USA

February 1, 2016

This essay, Thank A Vet, is the companion piece to Prayers For Firefighters.

It was written at the same time as Life Sentences.

He stood there in the gym locker room at the sink next to mine, shaving (as was I), not speaking, a genteel looking elderly man, white haired, balding. I noticed he had a metal brace encasing his left leg from well above the knee, all the way down to and including his foot. I asked him "How did you hurt yourself?" (it was none of my business really, yet it seemed OK to ask). "What do you mean?" he responded (clearly I was more aware of his leg brace than he was). "Sorry, I didn't mean to pry, but I noticed your brace. What happened to your leg?" I persisted.

"Oh that"  he said, rinsing his razor under the faucet, moving his leg slightly out to the side, looking down at it, "Agent Orange". "Oh! So you got the brace when you were in Vietnam?" I asked. "No, about a month ago" he said. He then told me how long term effects of Agent Orange, the defoliant indiscriminately deployed by the United States military in Vietnam, are still not fully understood. They can show up decades  later in those exposed to it. His failing leg was one such unexpected delayed effect. The irony of it was he'd escaped the horrors of the Vietnam war relatively unscathed, only to have his leg suddenly buckle under him one day, unable to bear his weight thirty five years later.

Suddenly my mouth was no longer in chit-chat  banter and blab mode. All of a sudden every word counted. I said "I sure hope the Veterans Administration is taking good care of you and giving you all the attention you deserve?" (you know, even that  sounded so lame  as soon as I'd said it). He didn't respond. A long moment went by. Still no response. So I turned my head and looked over at him. He'd put his hand holding his razor, down at the side of the sink. His head was bowed. Then I saw the tears in his eyes starting to spill on to his cheeks. "Oh my God! I'm ... so  ... sorry  ..." I said, "please forgive me. I didn't mean ...". "It's alright" he interrupted, "it's just so (expletive deleted)  unfair.". And then I thought to myself "He's not telling the truth: it's obviously not  alright.".

I've qualified for permanent residence in five countries: Great Britain, South Africa, France, New Zealand, and the United States of America. I'm a citizen of two: Great Britain and the United States of America (so I'm a dual national). Yet I've never been called on to put on a uniform for any of them or to serve in any of their armed services. That's not because I've avoided doing so or dodged  them. It's that I've never been conscripted or drafted by any of them. And on the one occasion I did register to serve in South Africa, my application was declined because I wasn't a South African citizen (my brother Brandon David "Bang" Platt, on the other hand, a South African citizen, was  conscripted and served in the South African air force).

I'm deeply grateful  to those who do serve and to those veterans who have  served. It's beyond any stretch of my imagination to even consider  what it must be like to see active engagement. That's one thing. But then  to come home requiring medical care, only to die (as many veterans do) waiting in line for months if not longer  to be seen by a doctor or a specialist. He's so right: it is  so (expletive deleted) unfair. It just doesn't work. We fail our vets.

So I said to him "Listen: I really want to thank you for what you've done, and for what you've sacrificed for us, your country. I want you to know I'm deeply grateful to you. It's a terrible  job you took on. Yet until we figure out a better way of managing our international conflicts, someone's  got to do it. And I'm clear people like me are fortunate enough to not  have to do it because people like you  have courageously taken it on. So I want you to know I just can't thank you enough personally. In fact none  of us can ever thank you enough personally, Sir!". And then I made  myself stop talking and be quiet so what I'd said had time to sink in.

Forewarned, I expected he may shed some more tears. Instead the exact opposite happened: the tears stopped, his lips pursed ... then his eyes lit up, and he looked over at me not saying anything, just staring directly into my eyes. We stood like that for a moment or two, sudsy razors in hand at our sides, not saying anything.

That was it. That was the entire exchange. I haven't seen him again since. To be sure, he's probably a regular at my gym. Yet there's no guarantee we'll work out at the same time. But if we do happen to find ourselves there together at the same time again, I'll share with him that what he revealed for me (which is to say I'll share with him that what our encounter shaving at the sinks in the gym locker room revealed for me) was over and beyond everything else, what really makes a difference for our veterans is to be respected, admired, acknowledged, and thanked. Thank a vet. It won't necessarily fix any physical injuries they've incurred. But it will let them know you know. To be sure, you can also make a difference by voting whenever the matter of how we take care of our veterans is on the ballot, and of course you can also write your congresswoman or congressman. But the very least  you can do is thank a vet.

That job they courageously did for you? It's one you don't want.

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