You wrote a blank check
Fashionable outfit of the day for Maelie this morning was a pink striped skirt, jeggings, a star shirt and her purple cape. I had on my Army PT shirt that Claire insisted I wear today. While standing in line at Panera, someone made a comment to Mae, saying she looked super fancy. She said thank you, then saw that he was wearing a shirt like mine and said, “You’re in the Army like my mommy!” He smiled and said, “Yup! I was!” She said, “Thanks!” (Because I’ve always told my kids you thank any person in uniform: officer, firefighter, military, EMT or veteran status.) He then said, “Thank your mom, too!”
When I went to order, I got what I always do, half a salad and soup. When I handed the manager my card to pay, the veteran we had been talking to leaned forward and said, “Did she forget to tell you she’s a veteran? Because she is.”
The manager looked at me, and said, “Oh! You’re a veteran, well then, your lunch is free.” Blushing, I thanked him and scooted over to the side to get our food.
The vet and his wife stood next to us and when our meal was called for, his wife offered to carry it to my table because I was carrying Audrey.
Never in all my years have I felt such a connection and kinship, as I did this afternoon. She could have offered to help simply because I had kids, and that’s always a nice gesture, but this time, it was because of my brief service to the military. I thanked her profusely, and she said, “You wrote a blank check to the US when you enlisted. The least I can do is carry your food for you.”
I have to remind myself often, that while I don’t believe I deserve the same pomp and circumstance that those who were deployed do, I gave what I could. And I would have given more if I had to. That has to count for something.
Sunday, I ran the EQT 10 Miler in downtown Pittsburgh. It was the perfect day for a race. It was sunny, not too windy and the chill lifted quickly once the race began. I wasn’t feeling too good, and wasn’t too psyched about the race, but I made a promise to myself that I would run this race, and I would do my best, because that’s what we do, Conti. That’s what we do. We don’t half ass anything. (I talk to myself often.)
The first five or six miles were all hills. I tried not to look too far ahead, because then I’d get down on myself when I’d see how much further I’d have to climb to get that brief respite before the next hill.
At mile 4, as we were winding up and down the hills, I was brought back to the day I proved to myself that I am unbreakable. After having limped my way through the past 4 weeks of basic training, I had to do my final challenge, our ruck march. No one knew how far we had to go, we just knew we had to keep moving. Minute after minute, mile after mile. We went from daylight, to twilight, to darkness. I remember when the sun first set, we were coming through a break in the trees and I saw a million stars. The sky looked like it was on fire. I told myself to take a picture with my mind and remember it forever, because right then, after miles of hills, hours of silence through the pain, I was untouchable. It didn’t matter that I had broken bones, or that my DS didn’t think I was good enough, or that I could barely lift my foot when putting on underwear. I had made it. I had proved to myself that I can do anything when I tell myself I can.
So when at mile 6 when my knee started to hurt, I thought of all the things I have done and all of the things I will do in my life. I thought of who I was, and what I did to get through. I thought of my IRun4 buddy who can’t walk. I thought of the moment when I sat on the exam table at the Orthopedic’s office when he told me I’d never run again. I felt that fire ignite inside me. That same one that’s always there when something is keeping me from doing what I want to do.
And that pain went away, and so did the hills, and when I finished, I didn’t even note the time. I had no idea what pace I kept. I had assumed it was around a 9:25 pace, because I set out to do just that.
When I got in the car, and saw that I kept a 9:11 pace, I was floored. Absolutely floored. I couldn’t stop smiling. I did that. Me. I was in the Army. I gave it all I had. I would do it all over again.
I am a Veteran.
Happy Veterans Day to all that have served and continue to serve. We are all free, because of the brave. And it truly takes a lot of bravery to do what we have done, in any capacity.