Sometimes it’s best to hold firm and decline a gift of disproportionate value and, in fact, it’s down right selfish to accept it. At first, I thought this was one of those times, so I thanked the man I knew from work and politely declined.
“I can’t accept this. This needs to go to your kids and passed on in your family!”
He squared his shoulders and looked me straight in the eye, “Yes, you normally do, but in this case, I want YOU to have it.”
He was holding a small maroon pin which he was awarded for serving in the Army. He explained the pin’s significance which represented where he fought and served. The pin’s actual value is minimal, but the sentimental, sacrifice and emotional value is priceless!
Again, I told him I just couldn’t accept it.
“You don’t understand”, he said, “You have to take it!”
This man drove a truck for a living and hauled for our company each morning. Several months earlier he was there on Veteran’s Day. I was taping a memo to the front glass door that listed and thanked all of the employees in the company who had served in the armed services. He said he’d never seen a company do that before, and as a private contract driver, was glad to do business with us.
We started talking about how he served in the Army in 1966 and 1967 during the Vietnam War. Somehow, it had never come up before.
We talked a few minutes and went our ways. That was it, a simple, casual conversation. Honestly, I don’t even remember what I said. He, however, did.
Now he was looking me straight in the eyes, “I want you to have this because since I came back from Vietnam in 1967, not one person has ever thanked me for serving until you did!”
His eyes were determined, but at the same time, vulnerable, as if letting out a deep hurt that was normally covered over.
Completely humbled, and quite honestly, a little embarrassed, I shook the man’s hand and accepted the pin that represented his military service in Vietnam. Several other men in our office witnessed this and came up, admired the pin, patted his back and shook his hand in thanks for his service.
When he left a few minutes later, I felt guilty. Would he still want me to have the pin since I barely remembered our conversation, much less thanking him for his service?
I began to wonder what he endured to earn it, and what it cost him personally during those two years of war. I wondered about his memories, and what may still haunt him in his dreams. I wonder how many of his buddies never came back to receive their pin.
This pin is a small personal treasure. It still stirs up thoughts and feelings and questions.
First, there’s much to be thankful for, no matter what our circumstances are. I need to remember that. I need to snap my wrist with a rubber band to give thanks for the countless blessings instead of having wants and perceived needs dominate my mind.
Gratitude starts with a good memory.
Second, are words the most powerful thing on earth? Whether used as a destructive sword or a healing balm, words shape and create our world for good, and bad.
Third, you never know what’s going on in someone else’s life, mind and heart. What appears to be, may not be. Just because something looks one way to me, doesn’t make it so.
I don’t deserve this pin. I didn’t earn it, didn’t work, serve or fight for it. Another man did. Yet here it is in my hand, in my possession. Like freedom itself, it’s been handed to me at no cost to myself, yet freedom is never free. It costs, dearly, it costs.
Thank you, Mr. Sanford! Thank you for serving!! Thank you for your work, blood, sweat and tears! Thank you for being willing to lay it all on the line! I so respect and honor you, sir, and will be forever thankful!