Sunday, July 30, 2017

Gray Heads and Glory

As I entered a post office one day, I saw a reflection in the glass of someone walking behind me with a slow, stooped step.  I held the door open and as I looked back, I noticed that he was an old man wearing a U.S. Army uniform and that he was a captain.  I further noticed that he was carrying several bags and, being in no particular hurry, I offered to help carry some of his load.  Of course, he handed me his entire load and began, in the way of old men, to tell me some of his life experiences.

The Captain was born during the Great Depression and he came of age during World War II.  To his immense regret, that war ended before he was old enough to join up.  However, he enlisted as soon as he was of age, and finished training in time for the start of the Korean War.  He came away with a hatred of both MacArthur and communism, a love for military life and Korean culture, and the unshakable belief that he had been fighting against a great evil.  He stayed in the army after hostilities ended, met a pretty Red Cross volunteer while home on leave, and swept her off her feet.   He re-enlisted as soon as Vietnam began to heat up and served several tours of duty.  His health began to give him problems and he was medically discharged before the conclusion of the Vietnam War.  He tried to rejoin for Desert Storm and Desert Shield, but was denied.  He is still angry with Bush '41 for not granting him a waiver to serve in Iraq.     He built a successful business, raised several children to adulthood, and now spends his time doting on his grandchildren and volunteering extensively with veteran support groups.  In fact, I was helping him carry in several dozen support packages he was sending to our men and women serving away from their families.

I asked the Captain about the uniform.  He lit up at the question and explained that his body is failing him.  His doctors have only given him so long to live. There is little they can do to stop or prevent his impending death.  Therefore, he decided that if death was coming for him, he was going to meet it on his terms.  He possesses two uniforms.  After getting his diagnosis, he made the decision to always be wearing one of them because when he goes, he wants to go out wearing the uniform so many of his friends died wearing.  Death is not dignified, but the Captain has chosen to meet it with all the dignity he can muster.

I met with an older attorney recently who had some information I needed for one of my clients.  He was funny and passionate and quickly took a shine to me because I greatly enjoyed listening to his stories from his long legal career.  He told me that after graduating from law school in the 1960s, he walked away from several offers that Memphis big law firms made to him.  He settled near his hometown in Middle Tennessee and hung out a shingle, hoping to correct an apathetic court system that perpetuated injustice and an apathetic society that turned a blind eye to the rampant poverty in its midst.  A few weeks into his practice, an elderly woman came to his office and begged for him to save her from eviction.  She offered him twenty or so dollar bills and he was moved to look over her case.  He realized that she had a rock-solid legal claim and he decided to take it on, but not to take her money.  He won her case and many years later, his client died peacefully in her sleep in that home.  Several years before her death, she came back to see him about a potential medical malpractice case.  He took it on and she received a multi-million dollar settlement.  His cut was so large he could have retired right then and there and still be spending it today.   He did not retire.  He is an old warhorse and still fighting the good fight 50 years later.  He told me that I made the best decision possible in choosing to go solo and he continued to regale me with stories of his fierce, passionate life.  He impressed upon me his belief that I will end up having the same impact that he himself has had.

Both these men have been on my mind a lot since our respective encounters.  The Captain found a cause and an institution he believed in and he served it with all his heart and at the risk of life and limb.  He saw evil in the world and he acted.  In his twilight, he looks back and finds the courage for what lies ahead.  The older attorney forsook a comfortable, lucrative job and blazed his own path.  He saw the injustice and the blanket poverty in his community and he devoted his life and his career to fighting both.  They are both heroes, fighters, idealists, and inspiring.  As their heads have grayed, they have increased in glory.  Every time I face fear or the temptation towards apathy, I think of these two and I remember their pride.   When confronted with their examples, it is impossible to give in to fear or to embrace apathy and it is entirely possible to make the daily choices to live now as they have.  

2 comments:

  1. Awesome stories! I'm glad you slowed long enough to be impacted by them and share with us. Honor the gray haired!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for sharing Corbin! What wonderful stories.

    ReplyDelete

Gray Heads and Glory

As I entered a post office one day, I saw a reflection in the glass of someone walking behind me with a slow, stooped step.  I held the door...