November 11th has been a legal holiday in our country since the end of World War I in 1918, but in my home it often has gone unnoted. Instead, for me, it was more likely associated with a free meal at a restaurant or a day that I learned to tread lightly through.
Being the daughter of a Vietnam vet and the wife to a Navy vet, I still wouldn’t call myself an expert on veteran relations or support. But I can say from all of these years of loving the two most important men in my life for all that they are and all that they’ve done, I’ve learned what our American veterans need to hear.
Gratitude is key to much in this life. It can be all you need to ward off negative thinking or defeating beliefs. It can be the one gesture that keeps you going after many difficult days. It has the power to give sight to the miracles that surround us.
Yet words without intention or even words with a good intention, but no substance, can do great damage. I’ve learned to turn my social media off on certain days because I can’t participate in the blanket “thank you for your service” slogan our country has adopted. I imagine how it felt the day I had a boss say to me, “thank you for all that you do,” and my first thought was, “do you even know what it is that I do?”
If you don’t know the person, how they served, what they did, or how they feel about what they did, do you know if thanking them is the right thing to do? Just because it has perhaps become a social norm doesn’t mean that it is automatically the kindest approach.
War is an uncomfortable topic to say the least. Our country as a whole has struggled on how to welcome our veterans home, show them gratitude and support them in their reentry to civilian life. It is natural to fill discomfort and failure with niceties and the appearance of success. None of us want to fail, and we especially don’t want to fail someone that was willing to risk their own lives for ours. It is this selflessness that becomes key to this topic, more than saying “thank you” could ever offer.
What Can I Say? What Can I Do?
If you are not as blessed as me to have such an intimate relationship with our country’s veterans, I trust that you have one or more in your circle. There are more than 18 million veterans in the United States. There’s more than 400,000 veterans right here in Colorado.
The best thing that I’ve learned is to listen. Isn’t this true for any relationship? Yes, I’m asking you to be vulnerable and establish a relationship. Meaningful connection to another human heart is the most important thing we could ever do to honor and support our veterans.
But how do we get the conversation started? Please don’t ever start with, “so, did you shoot anyone?” as Wes Moore experienced and shared in his Ted Talk. However, simple questions are a great guide to open up to true vulnerability, which we all know is the path to our greatest strength. So, here are my top tips for how to cultivate a meaningful interaction and truly show that you support those that have served us greatly.
Remember, Listen, Show Up:
1. Let Veterans Day be your annual reminder to be present for our veterans throughout year.
Veterans Day can be a trauma trigger for some. It can also be a much appreciated day of recognition. You won’t know until you get to know the veterans in your circle. So, instead of recognizing them one day a year, let the day simply be your reminder to come back to everyday practices of support.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and then be an intent listener.
Again, war is an uncomfortable topic, but we’d all be an island, not a community, if we never talked about the uncomfortable things. Ask why they signed up. Ask where they were stationed. Ask what habits they continue from their military life into their civilian life. But be sure to fully listen to the answers even though you may not be able to relate. Being interested and a good listener is how we foster those meaningful relationships. With the veteran suicide rate continuing to increase year over year, you never know when you may be saving a life.
3. Show up for our veterans by knowing and supporting veteran resources.
Instead of offering the blanket, “thank you for your service,” give a donation to a local resource on Veterans Day. If a donation isn’t in the budget, give them a call and see if there are any volunteer opportunities. Simply helping to spread the word on local resources could be a game-changer for the veterans in your circle. Here are some great starting points in our own backyard:
- Northern Colorado Veterans Resource Center
- Veterans Services Larimer County
- Healing Warriors Program
- Heart-J Center
- Hearts & Horses
- Stillwater Ranch
Listening to my father’s and my husband’s military experiences is what has moved me to be so passionate about this topic, but I’ve learned that their stories are not mine to tell. It is not my place to be their voice, but I trust that I can use my own voice to impact change.
My call to action is this: today, and any other random day of the year, make sure that the veteran in your life knows that they are loved, cared for and worthy of peace.