Veterans Day for all of us (yes, you, too)

For the next few days, pictures of soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines may make their way into your newsfeed. But 99% of Americans have not worn a uniform, and all statistics indicate those who haven’t are increasingly disconnected from the 1% who have. So most everyone reading about Veterans Day will close the article to work on email or a presentation for work, or head out for a meeting and forget whatever it is they’ve seen.

A very, very few will stand by at one of the dwindling number of Veteran’s Day parades or small community recognitions. Most won’t think much of the holiday at all, instead finding something fun to do with the day off, or struggling to find childcare to cover the kids while they try to get in work.

I don’t mind at all whether you recognize my service and my years in uniform, but for most of us to fail to take stock on Veterans Day is a true failure of opportunity for our country. As a veteran, what I want most is to know that it’s not the 1%, but the 100%. That we’re all in it together. So what should we do? I’d like to suggest we all start with pulling out the dictionary, and turning to “S.”

The author in front of her AH-64 Apache at Camp Page, Korea, 1999

A person might put on a uniform for many reasons. Some are escaping difficult circumstances. Some are paying for college. Some are trying to make something of themselves. Some don’t see any alternative. But most, at some point during the years that they serve, believe that they are doing something important, that they are contributing to what makes the United States of America a great place to be. Most believe they are signing up to protect the things that make this country great.

Perhaps on Veterans Day, our country might recognize its veterans, but just as much use the day to reflect on what makes our country great and worthy of sacrifice. Perhaps we could reflect even more on the meaning of service, and how we are called to serve, too.

Service is not something only for the 1% who have worn a uniform. Let’s look it up: Service is defined as the action of helping or doing work for someone, or an act of assistance. To serve is to perform duties or services for another person or organization.

How instead can we use their example to ask ourselves: How am I serving? How am I part of making this country a place worth such sacrifice?

The example of military service faithfully performed encourages us to think even further into more selfless service and sacrifice. Both of these concepts beg the definition of what exactly is worth giving of oneself, sometimes at the expense of self? Selfless shows up in the same dictionary as “concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own.” The relevant definition of sacrifice is: “An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.”

For most of the country disconnected from the military, what could we learn from these definitions and the ideas they suggest? How might our country be bettered if we each took the responsibility of selfless service and sacrifice on ourselves, especially for a person or people who are not like you? Maybe you already do, or know those who do: work to represent those without representation, serve food at a soup kitchen, volunteer in your libraries and schools.

One gift of service to the one who serves is that of a deep and abiding satisfaction. You can’t buy it, and in fact this kind of satisfaction is something our consumer culture purposely thwarts. As Gandhi said, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. But service to others and selflessness is not something worth simply lauding in our veterans; how instead can we use their example to ask ourselves: How am I serving? How am I part of making this country a place worth such sacrifice? Instead of only enjoying our freedoms, how can you contribute to them?

We don’t all have to wear a uniform. There are many ways to give of ourselves. Let Veterans Day honor our veterans by learning from the examples of those who gave so much in order for us to be free, ourselves, to serve.

Call to action: get The GRIT PROJECT CHECKLIST with secrets from fighter pilots and general officers at shannonpolson.com/thegritproject

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