The Coach is In… 

Gratitude for What Wasn’t

Gratitude is often about what we have. Sometimes in life there are things we’re glad we didn’t experience. That is this story.

As I write this it is November 11, 2019, Veteran’s Day. This is the day as a nation we stop to honor those men and women who have and do serve our country in the armed forces. There are many ways we do this, but in the end we are saying, “You matter(ed) and your service matters(ed), and we are so grateful for your sacrifice on our behalf.” Sadly, it wasn’t always this way.

In the Spring of 1969, I turned 18, and by law I needed to register with The Selective Service System, which would make me eligible for military conscription. At that time the SS used a lottery to provide candidates for the military, as we were fighting the Vietnam War.

This was a time in our country of great social and political unrest. There was growing hatred for the war as it continued to escalate and take increasing amounts of our resources – not the least of which was the number of men required to fight. Every day, there were reports of the number of troops killed. In the fall of ’69, amid this turmoil, I went off to college. “Welcome to the world, Jim.”

During that year I was part of many passionate discussions about what America’s role should be as the ‘policeman for the world.’ During the cold war we developed a philosophy that we needed to stop Communism from spreading by confronting it wherever in the world it was trying to get a foothold. Vietnam proved to be a central focal point of advancing Communism in the early 60’s. In 1959 we had 760 Americans advising the South Vietnamese. By 1968, we had 568,100 troops in Vietnam. It had become personal for many people.

The summer of ’70 I was working on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City with a friend from college. We happened to have the same birthday. The draft was held on July 1, 1970. It was hard waiting that day knowing that in a few short hours the direction of our lives could change forever. We bought a local special edition paper that we knew would have the numbers from earlier in the day. Our number…281. The highest number that was drafted was 195.

The ‘luck of the draw’ created a giant sigh of relief for my friend and I. It didn’t change the sadness I felt for the war, and the by-product that followed – there was open disdain for service men from that era. The sentiment lasted for many years. It was not right.

The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial was dedicated in 1982. It is a somber place for me to visit. The first time I went there I witnessed several people running their fingers over a name or names on the monument (there are over 58,000+ names commemorating the fallen soldiers who died in Vietnam). Many of those visitors had tears. I had tears, knowing that if things had turned out differently, my name could have been on that wall. There is a reverence in that place. A place of reflection and gratitude for what I didn’t have to experience. Thankful for those who served, served before, and continue to serve. Theirs is a place of reverence for me.

As I enter the season of Thanks-Giving, I start with this remembrance. It seems to be an appropriate moment of silence. A place to start, my heart full of gratitude for not only the summer of 1970, but for the many days since where I have been blessed – blessed with education, with an amazing wife, with wonderful children, with great family (both here and who have passed), amazing friends, the chance to do meaningful work, a God who loves me and who continually shows up in grace and mercy, the chance to travel and experience this amazing world.

But, I can’t enter this time of year without experiencing the world around me. A world that is in need of love, a world that sees far too many people, especially children, who are without – without shelter, without food, without a way to care for themselves. Gratitude helps give us a perspective about what we have, and in my story, gratitude for what we sometimes do not have to experience. That perspective of abundance can also inform us of all those that have no abundance. In those moments, we have a chance to make a choice as to how we would like to share with those with much less.

I am still working on being more generous. I’m often not happy about my progress but I know that there remains plenty of opportunity to act out of the love that I have been shown, and to share that love with someone else. The world has enough hate; our country, our cities and towns, our neighborhoods have enough hate. What would it look like if we decided to make a difference? To respond to hate with love? As Father Richard Rohr said recently, “Next time a resentment, negativity, or irritation comes into your mind, and you want to play it out or attach to it, consciously move that thought or person into your heart space…In this place it is almost impossible to judge, create story lines, or remain antagonistic…it is the natural organ of life, embodiment, and love.”

The summer of 1970 I received a gift. As a result, I want to continue to love better. It’s the least I can do. 

To a better you…