13 August, 2007

Meeting Sgt X: Connections and Mysteries

I have held off on writing this post because I didn't know how much to share, or even if I had the words to share it. But I'll try...

I've written about Sgt. X before. The condensed version of the story is that I wrote to his unit while he was deployed in 2004. Long before Valour-IT existed, he was wounded (hand/facial burns, back injuries, TBI and PSTD) and I lost touch with him. I recognized his name when it appeared on a Valour-IT request last December and he got a laptop, but until last weekend in San Antonio, I had never met him or heard his voice [if you don't really recall the story, please read those links before continuing].

I don't even know how to describe the sense of magic, of almost destiny that has surrounded the whole thing. It started years ago, of course--with having written to him, agonizing over his being wounded, then finally being able to help him when he re-entered my life years later.

But it's more than that.

What do you say to an infantry soldier who tells you he cried on the way to pick you up at the hotel with his toddler in the backseat, who tells you unbidden and with deepest sincerity that "you are my sister, to be treated as a member of my family," who introduces you to all his friends as "a real-life angel" without a hint of irony?

What do you say when he takes you on a motorcycle ride and upon turning on the radio, the first words of the song you hear are "But I bring my better angels to every fight?" What can you do but give in when he takes one hand off the handlebar and orders, "take my hand," and stretches your arm out into the wind, adding with a hint of a smile, "Angels can fly, can't they? So, let go." What could I do--once I got up the nerve--but lean in and stretch out my arms and fly? Because, after all of that, how could I be anything else?

How do you describe what it is like to sit next to a soldier in his new truck as he reenacts reflexively covering his face when the flames came rushing through the windshield that awful day, as he lays his burned hands in yours to show you that yes, he is okay now? Why does it seem so normal to listen to him talk about how he still scans the road for threats, to hear his stories of flashbacks and reflexive tactical responses, to discuss his pharmaceutical cocktails and surgical procedures with familiarity?

What do you say when his wife immediately embraces you and says more in two words--Thank you--than could be contained in a thousand? What do you say when he tells you, after you remind him that you didn't do all the work to make it happen, "When there is a need for a leader, the right person stands up. You were that person; you have impacted thousands of lives--I've seen some of them; you've helped my brothers.

Because in times like this you can no longer deny that you have been "put here for a reason," that you have been an instrument of blessing, a tool in the hands of fate, of God, of whatever made all this happen...

You would think this strokes the ego, puffs up pride. But it doesn't. It humbles beyond description. Supposedly my actions have given gifts to others, gifts motivated by love and spurred by obligation. But surely it is I who have received more than I can describe.

And some "lesser" gifts, too...

We spent the morning at a Harley-Davidson dealership (his wife was taking lessons) and he told me to "Pick out anything you like, short of a motorcycle. And if you pick something cheap like $30 just because you don't want me to spend a lot of money on you, I will kick your ass." I chose a modest little necklace, but he was disappointed: "I had hoped you would choose something more extravagant; I wanted you to get a leather jacket." I told him a leather jacket wouldn't get much use from me and pointed out that I could wear a necklace to lots of different events, which seemed to satisfy him.

And so I have an interesting conversation piece--a Harley Davidson necklace--that will always remind me of Sgt. X and what a blessing he has been to me.

So... what do you say? The best I could come up with was, "We all do what we can. I'm not a sheepdog, but I'm a sheepdog caretaker."

I know my calling.

[Info on artwork above, Connected, can be found here.]