On Monday, October 31, 2011, I left work earlier than usual because it was Halloween and I had important issues to deal with. At least, they seemed important at the time. I needed to make sure my daughter was dressed in her costume, that the jack-o-lanterns were lit and appropriately placed and that we had a plan to ensure the dog behaved himself during trick-or-treat activities.
On that same day, Marine Lance Corporal Brian Felber, was severely wounded in Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED and lost both his legs.
My concerns on Halloween seem unimportant in comparison. But, like most Americans, I was oblivious to the events that changed his and his family’s life forever. I was absorbed in the trivial details of my own life.
But the next day, I was sitting in my office when Jan Callen’s cell phone rang. Like everyone else in the office, I knew the call was from his wife Susie since she has her own ring tone. What we didn’t know was that she was calling to tell Jan about Brian, the husband of their 22 year-old niece.
As a retired Army Colonel, Jan reacted in true military fashion. He adjusted his plans accordingly and took the most appropriate course of action: instead of going to Nashville for the week, he and Susie would go to the Walter Reed in Bethesda to do what they could for Brian and the rest of his family.
In the meantime, I did what I thought was appropriate. I took Jan’s suggestion and liked a Facebook page supporting Brian: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Support-Combat-Wounded-Marine-Brian-Felber/281745445190900.
I admit, at first I did this because it was just what I thought was expected of me in such a situation. I’d never met Brian and didn’t really relate his situation to my own life.
But then I looked at the Facebook page and the photos.
He appears to be a guy I would genuinely like. In one photo, he has his arm around his young wife. In another, he has his arm around a dog. And in yet another, he’s playing with a band.
Dogs and music? Brian seems like my kind of guy.
That Facebook page made him more than just another news story or statistic. He’s become real to me. He is a person with a family and a life outside the military. Yet his service in the military will shape the rest of his life: a life that’s changed forever.
For most of us, our lives are going on as they always do. We pay attention to those things we think directly affect us with very little consideration to those that don’t.
As Jan said when reflecting about the time he spent with Brian and his family this past weekend, “When we were at the hospital, we saw all these young guys with lost limbs and young wives by their side. We saw an entire floor of a parking garage for handicapped parking. And then we went home, and the world goes on like nothing happened.”
His words remind me of lyrics from the Cat Stevens song “Sitting.” They are lyrics I’ve always loved. “Life is like a maze of doors, and they all open from the side you’re on. Just keep on pushing hard boy, try as you may you’re going to wind up where you started from. ”
The meaning of those lyrics can be debated, but to me, they’ve always meant that to move forward, we not only have to think beyond our own circumstances, but we also need to approach life from a perspective other than our own. We need to turn around and walk through the doors from the other direction.
When we do this, we just might actually see and appreciate all the people we never met who have been helping hold doors open for us: people who are contributing to our lives. As someone who didn’t grow up with close family or friends in the military, I’ve too often failed to recognize how members of the military help hold my doors open.
I hope Brian knows that his circumstances have served as a reminder to me. A couple of years ago, my son, Shepherd, also reminded me.
My husband and I were in a parent-teacher conference when Shepherd’s teacher told us she was very impressed with his thoughtful writing. We were surprised and asked what she meant. Apparently, he’d been charged with writing an essay in answer to the question “If you could change places with anyone for one day, who would it be?”
My son had answered a soldier. His reasoning was that, while he never wanted to be a soldier, as an American, he needed to understand what they are going through.
Wise words from a sixth grader and words to think about on this Veteran’s Day.
I hope we all take time think about the side of the door that our active troops and our veterans are facing. Members of our military do what they are asked, and they respond to some horrendous situations. And, most importantly, they do their duty out of love for our country.
On this Veterans Day, we should all consider what we can do to help hold THEIR doors open.