How to Never Ever Get Offended Again (If You Don't Want to)

The other day I was scrollin' on through my news feed on Facebook when I came across a notice that a friend of mine liked this image:

Image posted on Facebook page titled Right Wing News

Offensive, right? I'm supposed to be offended? Well, only if I'm a homosexual man or an LGBT-friendly person or a woman or a feminist (male or female) or a fan of logical argument or a gun-owner who doesn't subscribe to stereotypes or a PERSON who doesn't subscribe to stereotypes or somebody with the slightest inkling why a gun might reasonably make a person uncomfortable or a reader who thinks that a meme should at least be funny if that's what it's clearly intended to be. 

Those possibilities notwithstanding, there was no danger of my being offended.

After thinking about this thing for a bit, however, I concluded that the meme was not offensive. It was just dumb. Then I got to thinking about the nature of taking offense in the first place. What does it mean to be offended?

It seems to me that whether or not a person takes offense (experiences resentment, anger, displeasure, wounded feelings) has a lot to do with both that person's awareness of his or her faults, his or her strength of ego, and the strength of his or her convictions on matters of morality, social rights and wrongs, etc.

Here's what I mean:

If a person says something to me that leaves me feeling insulted, I can react in two primary ways (internally, that is; there are infinitely many ways I could react outwardly as an expression of how I've decided to react internally).
  1. I can decide that what the person said is true, based on what I know of myself
  2. I can decide that what the person said is not true, based on what I know of myself
That is not the end of the story, of course. I can be upset that somebody said something to me that is not true. In this case, the person is unaware, unperceptive, dishonest or is lashing out. All of these possibilities have to do with the nature of the other person. There is no reason for me to internalize the issues of another person.

Alternately, I can be upset that this person said something that was true that I didn't want to think about or was hoping nobody had noticed. In this case, what the person said was not offensive. What he or she said was unpleasant to face.

I can be upset about the way the person chose to express whatever was expressed. This is the nearest thing to being offended that makes sense in my mind. Again, however, a person's lack of sensitivity or tact or kindness or manners speaks of that person, not the recipient of the person's uncivil communication technique. And what I am feeling seems more accurately described as hurt, not offended. 

This all came into focus for me a few years ago when a person said some unflattering things about me in a semi-public way. It smarted at first. I didn't like being described or even thought of in the way this person had described me. But after some reflection, I decided that part of what was said was true, and while I disagreed with other parts, I did not think it unimaginable that the speaker's perception of me was honestly expressed, based on that person's limited exposure to me. I felt momentarily annoyed, yes, but taking offense would have been a reaction unworthy of my own ability to face truth, on more than one level. And even if the person was just trying to be mean, it's on that person to live with what life as a mean person looks like (and we ALL have our mean moments; I'm no exception).

What is the point of expressing offense, anyway? Is one looking for a retraction? Is one looking to change the expressed opinion of the speaker/doer? To say one is offended seems like plea of sorts: "Stop saying things I don't like to hear," "Stop saying things I don't agree with," "Do or say something that will make me feel better."

How much happier all of us would be if we just took responsibility for our own feelings and didn't ask such things of others.

Of course there will always be people who live to claim they're offended--who take offense at the slightest of so-called "slights." These people will not be calmed or dissuaded or talked off the ledge. That's clear. And my argument isn't for them.

My argument is for people who like to find happy places in their lives and stay awhile. They enjoy feeling that they are not easily ruffled, their equilibrium not so easily messed with.

On the personal front, I believe: a person who has dedicated time and energy to understanding herself, who is aware of her faults and misgivings and weaknesses/lamenesses and the motives behind the things she does, who is comfortable in her own skin and forgiving of her own and others' imperfections can never be offended by something said to/about her regarding her actions or her character traits.

But what about impersonal matters? The gun-lovin' meme I posted above is not about something personal. Not to me, anyway. So it's a question of whether or not I'm going to give some random, anonymous meme-maker enough credit to find his/her opinion offensive.

For me, whether or not to take offense on at-large matters outside of the personal realm comes down to this:

Q: Do I believe with conviction that what was said is true?
A: No. I know with conviction it is not true or I am reasonably comfortable with the belief that it is not true. I am not offended because somebody has simply said something untrue.

Q: Do I believe with conviction that what was said is true?
A: Yes, it is true. It was not offensive to hear the truth. It was uncomfortable. The feeling I am left with is undesirable. I will think about something else or I will revisit my beliefs on the subject to see whether or not they are in need of revision.

Q: Do I believe with conviction that what was said is true?
A: I'm not sure. I don't like what was said, but I can't say for sure whether or not there is truth to it. It is not right to take offense because I have not devoted enough serious thought to the matter. But I am uncomfortable enough that I know I need to think on it some more. (This is not to say that one should take offense once one has devoted serious thought to the matter...my thought is that when one decides to devote serious thought to matters in general, taking offense may be an action that feels wasteful of his or her time and energy.)

Q: Do I believe with conviction that what was said is true?
A: Yes, it is probably true, but I don't like they way it was said. It was expressed unkindly and disrespectfully and I take offense to it. (Fine. Be offended if you will. Be hurt. Feeling this way cannot always be avoided. An alternate choice would be to think, 'What an ass,' and be done with it).

So on impersonal matters, like opinions about societal issues expressed in a public realm, I believe: a person who is confident in her beliefs and stances and who understands the complexity of human affairs and who knows there is little-to-no likelihood of billions of people from different perspectives coming to consensus can never be offended by something expressed in a public realm about a societal issue. 

And this is not to say there aren't important times for calls to action. If whoever subscribed to the position expressed in the above meme were going around pistol-whipping homosexuals, something would need to be done. But clicking and cutting a pasting and posting does not warrant enough of a response for me to take offense. I've already spent more time contemplating the thing than I should have. But I use it as an example and to illustrate a point.

Working in customer service (especially in behind-counter/desk roles), I am often in the situation where I'm trapped listening to somebody's spiel about something and I am not at liberty in my job role to respond with my own opinion. Smile And Nod is the unspoken official policy. It's nauseating at times, but it's gotten me into the practice of letting things roll off my back. I've found that the less time I spend dwelling on something another person said that irritated me, the happier am.

I'm starting to think one of life's greatest lessons is about spending as little energy as possible in an annoyed state. And it's not about burying one's head in the sand and pretending all is well when it isn't. It's about knowing what edifies versus what chips away at one's soul/sense of well-being.

I am not an unfeeling robot and I don't live in an unaffected/unaffect-able bubble. Things definitely get under my skin. But as I get older and my priorities shift, those moments are briefer and are felt less acutely. I eventually realize I'm more bothered with myself for being bothered than I am insulted, outraged, offended. 

Because here's the thing about taking offense: when you take offense, you allow somebody to have control over how you feel. You've effectively said that another person's words or deeds are more potent than your own sense of self or strength of convictions.

Why hand over that kind of power?

Kevin's Sketch

Mitral Portal.

Inspired by the amazing mitral valve of the heart, and specifically one from an amazing human being named Karl Konrad, whom just had his mitral valve repaired. I wonder how many times this valve has opened and closed in Karl's big heart so far, and with the aid of technology, how many more times it will now be able to open and close in his lifetime. The mitral valve, being so crucial to life itself, appears so strangely delicate and fragile- it's amazing to me that all this organic machinery operates within us every moment we are alive on this Earth, yet we are hardly aware of its existence in our very own bodies! Thank you Karl, and here's to a healthy heart of yours.


Other People's Money

While I was away from work last week, my company announced a special one-day offer that would take place the day after I started back (this happens once or twice per year). We were offering a modest cash incentive to new customers who opened a checking account or customers who made a deposit of $10,000 into an existing savings account.

I couldn't have imagined how many people would drop in for the second part of that offer. What's 10K between financial institutions, after all?

I've realized, by the way, that this is the way people become rich: they never pass up an opportunity for free money; they never ever pay a fee if they can get out of it; they live like they need the money, even if by outward appearances they don't.

Those of us who struggle with money (I would like to imagine myself *formerly* belonging to this category, though it's a journey, y'all!) usually have the mindset that rich people don't need to run around town moving money here and there just for a (comparably meager) cash reward. We imagine they have more important things to do with their time at that point. But we forget that this is how they got wealthy in the first place and this is how many of them will continue to secure their financial futures.

I have mad respect for the practice (as long as it doesn't involve dishonest means), though I don't know that I have the discipline (working on that too).

Anyway, it was a busy day for all the bankers. My coworkers had last week to call customers and book appointments, but there was plenty of walk-in, word-of-mouth traffic to keep me busy for the day as well. There was a lot of bustle, a lot of money changing hands, a whole lot of chatter making the place feel all abuzz.

Money. Money. Money.

Later in the afternoon, when a relative calm had settled in, I met an entirely different kind of customer. No giant money bags dropped off in her case. It was a woman who had been divorced for a few years and who had ruined her credit in the process of untangling her married life. She and her ex had both filed for bankruptcy, and the last time she tried to open a checking count, she was denied. (A lot of people aren't aware it's even possible to be denied a checking account, but it happens on the rare occasion, when things have gone *that* awry.)

This customer had been great to talk to...super down to earth and sincere. When she told me about her recent financial troubles and finally leaned in, quietly and in confidence to say "I don't even know if I can GET a checking account at this point," I wanted nothing more than to be the one to deliver her good news.

I've been there.

Well, maybe not quite THERE, but not far from there. I had major credit issues at one point. Two past-due credit card bills during my dirt-poor college days were enough to get me on The Naughty List. I did a debt consolidation at age 25 (my total debt at that point was roughly $2,300 or so, but at the time it seemed insurmountable), and it took me about 3 years of payments and 4 additional years of good behavior to rebuild what I'd so carelessly let fall into disrepair. I know what it feels like to have creditors give you a collective middle finger and the loud-and-clear message: You Suck! I'd earned it.

So when this customer sheepishly admitted her own sad state of financial affairs to me and said she would love to open an account that day...if she could...I immediately formed a cheer squad for her in my mind--a team of tiny, enthusiastic, financially responsible little rah rahs who (I firmly believed) had the power to turn the tides.

I input her information and held my breath as I hit the "submit" key.


Wah wah waaaaaaaaaaah.

But no. This wasn't the red box kiss-of-death screen. This was the definitely maybe, we're willing to consider the possibility screen. There was a number I could call and, on the other end of the line, an unnamed, faceless wizard who would review the customer's information and send forth a Gladiator-like thumb signal.

This time we both held our breath while we awaited the verdict.

"Ok," said the voice on the line, bored out of her mind. "We can go ahead and approve the override. Just enter the following information..." This was just another tick mark on one side of the 50/50 response options representing the whole of this woman's daily reportings.

It meant slightly more to my customer and me.

I smiled ridiculously when I responded "that's great!" and I looked at the customer with a little "yaaaaaay" in my gaze.

Setting up that account was more interesting and meaningful and special to me than almost anything I've done in my new position (though there have been some thought-provoking doozies). I could feel her fresh-start sense of relief and rebirth. I knew she was going to leave with a better outlook on the future. And I felt privileged to be party to that scene.

What I really enjoy about my job is that it's all about people. The vast majority in this country need accounts at some kind of financial institution to hold or manage their funds, which means I get to meet and sit down with the wide, wide array of folks living and making money (or living off the money somebody else made), which is endlessly fascinating to me.

Financial business is often related to big life moments. I watched once as a mom took pictures of her 18-year-old daughter, a college student who was opening her first checking account (she was crying all the while; I could totally relate to that mama), and I've sat with several people who'd just lost loved ones or were dealing with loved ones' terminal illnesses. I opened a first joint checking account for a newlywed couple just starting out on their journey together. And then, of course, there are the custodial savings accounts for the babies.

Oof...the whole cycle of life is there and I love--in that voyeuristic way I have--to be able to view little glimpses of these lives.


The Broken Heart (Part 2): Mended

What a week it's been.

Last Saturday my parents hosted a little dinner at their house as a well-wishing send off. Kevin and his folks, Gavin and Kalil and I gathered around to break bread and chat. We also had an oddly good time taking each others' blood pressure and listening to each others' heartbeats on the new stethoscope my Ma gave my Dad as a surgery gift. She wanted him to be able to listen to the difference before and after (when the swooshing effect of the inefficient prolapse would be absent).

My brother flew in Sunday morning and the two of us took my Dad to brunch for some special Dadio/Kiddo time and to say some things we'd wanted to say to him. As I wrote last week, we all felt fortunate to have this surgery pre-scheduled and to have time to reflect on the gravity of it before it was upon us.

Monday morning the boys and I roused ourselves at 3am to get to the hospital in SF for my Pa's 5am check-in. There were two hours during which we were allowed to follow him to various waiting rooms and make typical Konrad light of everything. What a weird scene: dozens of sleepy-eyed patients scooting around the floors waiting to be put under and relatives ready to be those awaiting the news that the put-underee had been brought back to.

There was a palpable feeling of unease, of nervous laughter: the odd, rare-in-a-lifetime sensation of putting the entirety of one's trust in a system and a group of people. I tried to imagine what going to work must feel like when your *every day* job is to stop people's hearts for a few hours and fix those hearts while machinery keeps them alive. Not gonna be signing up for that one.

But my GOD, how great that people do. Do you ever wonder (because I always do) who was the first person to volunteer for a pioneering procedure? I mean doctor or patient. Like, who was the first person who said, "yes, I understand this has never been done to a human before, but why don't you go ahead and aim that laser into my EYE and see if that fixes my vision problems?" Crazy.

Anyway, I'm happy there are doctors and patients out there willing to take one (in this case: set of microscopic instruments and a camera to the heart) for the team. A few years of perfecting later and people like my Dad can roll into a San Francisco hospital on a casual Monday morning and roll back out with a heart as good as new.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

As the hours wore by Monday morning and I wondered why the surgery was taking so long, my Mom, Aunt Rose, Brother, Kevin, Kalil and I whiled away the time, in and out of sleep. About 30 seconds before we were able to head up to the ICU upon the news that my Dad had come out of surgery, a magical volunteer appeared to offer us snacks, word puzzle books, beverages, all kinds of creature comforts. Where was SHE all morning?!

No matter, we were on the move anyway.

The ICU is a trippy place. I mean that mostly because many of the people in there are all tripped out on the remnants of powerful anesthesia. When we visited my Dad, he was super sweet to my Mama, telling her how much he loved her and how he'd missed her so much (during the 6 hours he was out, I guess he meant). He told me how he loved Kevin and was so happy I had brought him into our family. He made silly jokes and laughed the goofiest laugh (a slowly delivered HAAAAA followed by a long, eyes-closed pause, following everything he perceived to be funny). All this was uttered in a loopy-time voice of sleepy, altered state, probably mixed in with a good measure of happy-to-be-alive.

That went for all of us. The relief of learning your loved one's heart has started up again just fine and that he is awake and with his wits about him--it's not something that can be measured. And it was an honor to see my father in that state: vulnerable and sincere and with guard all the way down. It was an honor to see the love between my parents following one of strangest/scariest few hours in my family's history.

The days since that day have passed lazily (for all but my Dad, who's been dutifully walking the halls to get on the road to healing). We've hung around the hospital room: iPad-ing and Lego-ing and snacking. 

For all our time in The City we saw little but the hallways and the cafeteria and the inside of the cabs we've taken from Kaiser to the hotel. Kalil got a big kick out of that, the taxi ride portion of the evening. He also became entranced by the late night exercise infomercials that came on the in the hotel room as we were settling in. I can't help but wonder how he'll make sense of this week in his future mind. What will stick out?

With my Dad's return home waylaid by a long two days and my parents finally safely tucked away under their own roof, this is what now sticks out for me:

In the home of my parents' lovely neighbors, Mark and Sharon, this afternoon (Sharon was giving Kevin and me a tour of their beautiful recent renovations), this is what I was thinking about...I was thinking about all the little things that it's so nice to think about my Dad being present for. Sharon pointed out a light fixture my Dad had helped them install (because he's one of the most helpful people I've ever known), and I thought about how many marks of a similar nature he's left on this planet. All week long I would have thoughts like 'when we move the cars, Dad can drive one car down to the hotel...oh wait...Dad can't drive to the hotel,' or 'when we go to Kalil's t-ball game Sunday Dad will want to get a picture with the Monkey...oh wait...Dad won't be there for Kalil's game...'

My Dad is one of life's true participants. He's a joiner-in. A player-along. He is game. He is up for it. Down with it. He says yes--a whole lot of the time. In any way my Dad can be involved, he will be. Happily and enthusiastically. People like that deserve as much time as possible to show the rest of us a thing or two. They deserve decades of loving and learning and laughter and dancing with everybody's great aunt at the wedding just to remind them of their youths.

If you didn't read it through my words by now: I love my Dad. I love him big time. And I am so happy to share that he emerged from the hospital this morning a stronger man than he was went he went in--in more ways than one. His heart has been strengthened and will hopefully give us all numerous decades more. His spirit has been strengthened not only because he now knows he can come through a life event like this with grace, but because it has been fortified with all the love and concern and well-wishes of those whose lives my Dadio's life has touched--people who are better for knowing him, a list of names I am grateful to be among.

Happy healing, Popalo Jones. May you enjoy the well-earned rest.

Kevin's Sketch

Mitral Portal (in progress)

This work in progress is inspired by the amazing mitral valve, and specifically one from an amazing human being named Karl Konrad. I wonder how many times this valve has opened and closed in Karl's big heart so far, and with the aid of technology, how many more times it will now be able to open and close in his lifetime. The mitral valve, being so crucial to life itself, appears so strangely delicate and fragile--it's amazing to me that this organic machinery operates within us every moment we are alive on this Earth, yet we are hardly aware of its existence in our very own bodies! Thank you Karl, and here's to a healthy heart of yours.


The Broken Heart (Part 1)

This week I've got hearts on my mind. Or heart, to be more specific. It's just the one heart I'm thinking about: my Dad's, which is broken. Technically speaking, anyway.

Late last year, after suddenly having both arms go numb and feeling pain in his chest when going from a sitting to standing position, he had his heart checked and learned he has a Mitral Valve Prolapse. Basically, the valve carrying blood from his heart's left atrium to the left ventricle is damaged.

The good news is that doctors caught this issue early enough that he can get the valve repaired rather than replaced; the still-disconcerting news is that my Dad is having heart surgery.

This is shocking to me. If you know my Dad, you know that he is the Fountain of Youth poster man, in looks and in outlook. He is always full of energy, active, upbeat, outgoing...always looking to learn something new, improve himself, to gain a fresh perspective. At age fifty-seven, he looks like a youngish forty-five.

"Karl Konrad" and "heart surgery" just don't seem like concepts of a shared realm.

Dad and the boys, Alameda County Fair 2012
But this condition is congenital, meaning that all the good behaviors he displays, like exercising regularly and into above-and-beyond levels of challenge (YOU try cycling to the top of Mt. Diablo! (not that I have)) would not have had a chance at preventing its occurrence. This part was actually good news for my Dad. As long as nobody has told him to step away from the bacon, he's good.

But that's the thing with my Dad, see. It's all good. But I mean really...it's ALL good. Everything that comes his way: it's a challenge rather than a problem. It's an adventure. An opportunity. And he really means it. These are not euphemisms employed for the sake of others. Or if they are, he's really, really good at selling them. In the end, does it make a difference? The outcome is the same: he rolls with whatever life sends him like no other person I've known, with the exception of my Mom, and in the end he arrives at a better place than he was before the challenge/adventure/opportunity came his way.

Dadio and Mamala, Feb 2014
Together, my parents are a formidably forward-thinking and undeterred pair. They will always find the bright side and present a solid game face.

At the moment, I'm feeling a little confused on how to process the reality of what's going on. There's part of me that's thinking 'Heart surgery. y'all! This is some scary shit!!' And then the other part of me looks to my Dad and Mom's example and thinks 'this is a bump in the road...how fortunate that the problem was discovered now, when new and innovative, minimally invasive microscopic surgery is an option.'

And maybe what I've been missing is that there is room for both of these feelings. They don't have to be at odds with each other--as if I needed to choose between them. Yes, heart surgery is scary, AND there is cause to celebrate and think positively.

The other day I called my Dad to ask about his pre-op appointment. As he talked cheerfully and with gratitude about how thorough and informative the staff was during the hours-long orientation process, all I could think of was the 5am check-in time. I pictured a first wave of visitors there to wish him well...my Aunt Rose (Mom's best friend since 3rd grade and a super knowledgeable Nurse Practitioner--two levels of support!), my brother, my son, my boyfriend and me. 

Then I pictured all of us gone and my Mom remaining there. I thought of 38 years of marriage boiled down to this moment (don't they all, every marriage, eventually lead to one final moment? I've had this thought before and it's blown my mind).

We all know that, statistically speaking, my Dad's surgery will go smoothly and everything will turn out just fine. We all know the odds. And yet we also know that there are outlier cases and complications and there are moments one must seize upon. Not everybody has the chance to have words with his beloved in the minutes just before heart surgery (so many of these surgeries take place following an emergency). What will they say to each other in those moments? What is that going to feel like for each of them? It makes my own heart feel tender to think about it.

And I admit this has been one of the more difficult subjects for me to write about. It's not often that I have difficulty finding words. It's not often my family confronts a life event of this magnitude either, so I suppose it is fitting.

If you are reading this, I would like to ask that you keep my Dad in your thoughts and prayers (if you make them). I know that he has so much yet to contribute to this world...so many laughs to experience and inspire (love you, Dadio), so many things to teach me and all of us who know him.

I can't wait to see him take on a heaping, post-ride pile of something greasy on the other end of all of this.


In the Absence of My Own Elderly Veteran Grandfathers...

At work last week, I briefly met an elderly veteran who looked like my boyfriend Kevin in his youth. When I shared this with Kevin later that night, he asked if I asked the man which branch of the military he'd served in. I hadn't.

"You might want to ask when you talk to those guys ["those guys" being veterans who wore hats or buttons--like this man had--identifying themselves as such]. A lot of them are proud of their service and would like to talk about it," he said. I knew what he meant. I'd gotten the sense that man would have liked to share more. And Kevin's advice--which landed well on my ears given that he is himself a Marine veteran--stuck with me.

The very next day I was walking through the lobby of my work when I noticed an elderly man seated, wearing a Korean War Veteran hat. I asked him about his service, and without a moment's hesitation he said, "Army, infantry." He began to tell me about his injuries--he'd been shot twice right off the boat (the boat that transported him there). "Purple Heart," I said. "That's right." The man said a few things more and then suddenly he was teary-eyed.

"Thank you for talking to me," he said.

Thank you for talking to me.

Suddenly I was teary, too...a little taken aback. I'm new to my work location, and I'd seen this same man seated in the same seat last week as well. Did he come in every week and sit drinking coffee in that spot, longing to talk? If so, how often did he have a listener? The experience was eye-opening for me, and it prepared me a bit for what was to happen the day after that...

Image Credit: Catfish Moore, 2014
I was sitting at my desk when I saw a man passing through the lobby with a walker at an excruciatingly slow pace. I asked if I could help him, to which he said, "yes...I need to sit down and talk to somebody." It took at least five minutes for him to make his way to my cubicle, where he collapsed into a chair with a loud and weary groan.

In low tones--so low I strained to hear--and with an exhaustion I can only with futility grasp at understanding, he told me about his predicament. His 94-year-old wife was recently admitted to the hospital. In the ensuing difficulty and confusion he'd lost track of his finances. He just wanted it all straightened out.

This man also happened to be wearing a veteran's hat (there is a VFW hall down the street from my work and a lot of elderly veterans live in the area). As I worked through his financial stuff, he began to talk about his service...his World War II service as a Combat Medic.

I would like to write more, in greater detail about the things this man told me that afternoon, but it wouldn't be prudent to do so without his permission. The things he told me landed heavily and stayed, thick in my mind and my heart. What stands out most was his telling me how he longed to forget. How for 70 years he has longed to forget the things he saw and all he tried to do but couldn't.

He was emotional. Then he was incredibly apologetic for being so emotional. Apologetic for taking my time and for talking so much. Apologetic for needing help.

I wish there were a way to accurately show a stranger what is going on inside one's mind. I wish there were a way for me to tell him so I knew he believed me that it was an honor beyond measure to be in conversation with this man and to be able to help him.

I told him both my grandfathers had passed away and that I could no longer listen to their stories. My maternal grandfather had been in the Air Force but (stationed in Goose Bay, Labrador), his service time stories were lighthearted--of playing drums in the band for the dances they held and goofing around in the snow. My paternal grandfather--German, immigrating here after the war...I hadn't dared to ask (but oh, how I wish I had...now). Newly reminded of the dearth in elderly family members in my own life to listen to and learn from...I was emotional as well.

At some point in our conversation, I'd told my customer about my 4-year-old son. In the end, he took my hand in his and looked in my eyes and told me to take good care of the boy. He told me to read to him every night and to make sure he gets a good education and just to take good, good care of him. Jesus I'm crying now just thinking about it.

I wonder if people say things like that when they know they could have and should have been taken better care of themselves. I thought all about how little we as a society knew about PTSD for so many years, and how few resources there were available for the majority of these veterans' lives...these men who'd seen and experienced some of the worst things a person can see and experience.

Over the years I've had strong opinions about the wars of my lifetime. I've felt they were unjustified, imperialistic, wildly unnecessary. I don't feel the same about the wars these men were involuntarily drafted into. But I hate that these men were sent away so young to fight in these wars and that they have been so thoroughly haunted, for so long, as a result.

And it's painful to contemplate that these men are left feeling thankful just because a person listened to them. Maybe I'm reading too much into it--after all, most of us feel thankful when we feel we've been listened to. But I can't help but additionally think about the general invisibility of the elderly to the (unseeing) eyes of many young people. I know this is not an original thought. Plenty has been made of the lack of regard we as Americans hold our elderly society members in, especially relative to other cultures. It's not an original thought but I think it's one that bears considering and repeating once in a while.

That customer I sat with had to know that--as much as I may take his words seriously and trust in the wisdom of his experience--I can't possibly know what he truly means or have a clue how life feels, from his perspective looking out. On a daily basis I understand things about my parents and their lives that I couldn't have absorbed as a younger person. But I did want him to know I was listening and taking note. I wanted him to know I respected him, honored his service (and, apart from his service, his life experience), that I could have listened for many more hours.

And as corny and trite and uncharacteristically patriotic as it may sound for me to say so: I want to give thanks to all the servicemen and servicewomen who have made unimaginable sacrifices, voluntarily or otherwise, on behalf of this country. I will keep striving to see them and to listen and to learn from them. I consider every opportunity to do so a gift.