Last week, I went shopping. Nothing new there. At Menard’s. Also nothing new – I find more there that I want than just about anywhere else. (DSW Shoes and Winnick’s, a western supply store, not-withstanding as I love my boots.)
My son, inquisitive as he is, saw a man, probably about forty or so, in a wheelchair. Several feet behind him as we walked down the aisle, my son asked, “what’s that, Mama?” To which I responded with the appropriate answer – a wheelchair.
“Because not everyone can walk all the time.”
“Well, sometimes their legs don’t work anymore, or-”
“Maybe they broke their back, or they have weak muscles in their legs-”
“Well, it could be a car accident, or something like Muscular Dystrophy-”
“What about him?” (Points to the man in front of us)
“I don’t know. But one way to find out is to ask.” He takes off to ask, but I hold him back. I explained to him that it’s best to ask questions nicely, and that not everyone wants to talk about why something is different about themselves. By this time the man in front of us has heard our conversation and is turning around.
He smiled at us and waited for us to catch up to him, at which point he thanked me for having the conversation with my son about people with, what society labels as, disabilities.
My son, now even more curious because this guy was interested in talking to him (my son will talk your ear off inside thirty seconds if you’re lucky. Less if you’re not) asks, “why do you need a wheelchair?”
“Well when I was in the army,” and he told his tale. We’ll call him Nick. Nick served fifteen years in the army before he came back a paraplegic in 2004.
Now my mom is wondering where I’ve disappeared to (she came with and had my daughter with her) and waits patiently off to the side while my son finishes his conversation. He was disappointed when I told him we all had shopping to finish and we should let Nick get on his way. And then I told him he should thank the nice man.
“Well for starters, for taking the time to talk to you, and secondly for all the sacrifices he’s made to protect our freedoms.”
Little Mister summed it up with, “Thank you for talking to me and protecting me.”
And then Nick said something. It took me a moment to understand all the different levels and meanings of what he said. “Thank you for giving me something to fight for.”
At first, I was caught off guard. But then it dawned on me. My son, a boy who wasn’t even born when this man fought, was the future of our country. Nick fought for our country, for the future of it, for the safety of it, for the people of it, for the innocence and for all that it stands for.
If not for the children, the people, the future of our country, our legacies, what reason did he have to protect this place he calls home? The people around him are what make this place his home – and home is worth fighting for.