I often pride myself on being a non-judgmental person. The irony laden in that sentence is thick with implication. Since when, after all, has anyone with pride not been intimately acquainted with judgement? And it’s true come to think of it. If I’m being honest, which I might as well be … I judge people all the time. I know this because of how often I offer my advice and my opinions. I give them out for free like candy at a narcissistic parade. Whether or not it’s always warranted or asked for, I toss pieces of “wisdom” out freely, imagining the little sugar drops will somehow taste sweeter if wrapped in pretty words. But you know what? It’s supremely condescending. And I’m sorry.
While I think being a sound listener, offering words of kindness and support, and even opinions (when asked for) are all meant for good … I think that sometimes I just get so distracted by my own parade of thoughts … of what I would do, of what I would feel if I were in a situation, that I let my imagination take control of my mouth. And suddenly my standpoints, perspectives, and judgements are skewed by my own summation of what I imagine. NOT a very flattering realization of myself to say the least – but a necessary one, especially at this time of year.
You see, I’m a pacifist to the core. I hate war. I hate hate. I hate that we are a part of a country that has a history rich with both … and yet, I love the freedom that I have to think, and speak, and act according to the will that was paid for by the lives of those who put themselves before themselves. One of my favorite people in the entire world is a man who fought in the Vietnam War. It is a war that I have a bitterness toward, yet one that I also know very little about. And there I sit, my blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white-privilege, thirty-something self … full of opinions on a subject I barely understand … and there he sits … ex-soldier who has seen and done more than I will ever know – listening patiently to me as if I do.
A day away from my favorite holiday of the year. Twenty-four hours from “God Bless America.” From red, white, and blue outfits that will look fantastic in a family photo. From food, and friends, and conversation that will carry me into the magic of fireworks that glisten and linger in the heavens. And how many times have I forgotten to think of what all this nostalgic safety cost? A much lower number would be how many times I’ve actually remembered.
I don’t say this to dampen the spirits of our precious celebrations. It’s the opposite really. I’m apologizing, because I realize that so much of what I value as a citizen of the United States, come from realities I could never have afforded on my own. No amount of good will I’ve done, of nice things I’ve said, of opinions I’ve shared, or viewpoints I’ve held will do even a fraction for the lives of this nation, as the silent men and women behind the scenes who make sure daily that I am able to maintain a sense of freedom I don’t deserve. You see, it’s easy to offer advice on something you’ve never experienced, because don’t we all have just the grandest imaginations to think we know one another’s pain?
Well today, to honor the men and women of every branch of our services, I offer you my greatest admission – I do not know how you feel. I do not know what you go through. I can’t imagine the things you have seen, the places you’ve been, or the sacrifices you consistently make for strangers. I do not know the sense of integrity that runs through your core. I do not pretend to have even an ounce of the bravery you bleed. I cannot know the heart, the mind, or the spirit that overwhelms your being just in being you.
Today I have no advice. No opinions. I offer no viewpoints. No outlook. No stance. I simply, humbly breathe in this Fourth of July with gratitude for all that you are. God bless America’s hands, and feet … from the first soldier to the last – your debt of time, of protection, and of selfless courage inspire me to the highest act of praise I can give … my silence.