Usually I love to write about events, adventures, and venues, but tonight I want to tell everyone about a random act of kindness that has somehow managed to change lives in the blink of an eye. Last weekend my family and I went to a friend’s house for a BBQ and some much-needed social interaction. At one point my oldest went to the car with me to grab something and much to my surprise, we saw the neighbor’s flag laying on the ground under his flag pole. It was a fairly blustery day which is strange for our area. The cord and one of the clasps must have come undone with all that wind.
My oldest and I walked over, unhooked the flag and picked it up off the ground. He didn’t quite know what we were doing, but I told him we had to fold the flag and return it. He didn’t quite understand why we couldn’t just throw it over my shoulder or ball it up like a towel. Instead I took the time to show him how to properly fold it. We then knocked on the neighbor’s door and I introduced myself as a friend of his neighbor. I explained politely to him that his flag was on the ground and that we wanted to properly return it to him. At first he was speechless. At first I thought he might be upset that I was messing with his personal property, but he thanked me and had a smile on his face, especially as he saw that my little guy was with me. I politely asked him if he was a veteran, and when he informed me he was, I genuinely thanked him for his service, shook his hand and we were on our way. Here was a WWII veteran who seemed very surprised that a complete stranger would take the time to not only return his fallen flag, but to fold it properly and neatly as it should be.
The next evening after my boys had gone to sleep, I set out to find a replacement flag. After all, the red white and blue was on the ground. Although not technically soiled and looking to be in great shape, I knew it was proper etiquette to replace it. Believe it or not, it was fairly difficult to find a quality embroidered flag, made in the USA, that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I found one for a few dollars, and when I went to check out, realized I could use some of my credit card points and wound up spending the price of a few cups of coffee.
Skip ahead another day, and my package arrived! I wasn’t home to open it, but my little guys were so excited! With almost as much excitement as Christmas day, my oldest proudly told my wife that this was our new flag. After explaining that we don’t have a flag pole, without missing a beat he told her that they should pack up and go to Home Depot to buy one! I have never priced flag poles especially at Home Depot, so this was a bit of a mystery how he made the connection. I’m pretty transparent, and my wife knows my sense of patriotism, so she told our little guy it was probably for our friend’s neighbor. She knows me all too well and now my oldest wants a flag pole of his own!
The next day I raced home from work, plowed down some food and went to go visit my friend’s neighbor! When I pulled into the driveway, the flag was fixed and old glory was gently flapping in the breeze. This time, without my little guy, something surprising happened. I got out of the car and in the garage I heard a voice. Sure enough he came to greet me at the sliding screen door of the garage and he was decked out in a red white and blue striped shirt. After I presented to him the gift, complete with instructions on how to properly retire his old flag, he invited me into his garage to chat where he had a sitting area setup, complete with a nice TV and chairs. I imagine it was his version of a “man cave”!
I was honored that this gentleman would invite a complete stranger into his home as he offered me a seat. All around his garage, he had various flag memorabilia setup. From tiny flags to signs, you could tell he was proud of his country! He began telling me all about his service in WWII. He was initially posted to Patton’s 8th Army and later was transferred to the 9th. He took the time to show me some of his service and unit pins as he told me about his experiences. For a few minutes, it was as if I was chatting with my own grandfather! He too had a similar story, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they had ever run into each other before. My grandfather is gone now, but this man had the same caring look in his eyes and for a moment I started to tear up. As I sat there listening to his story, you could see his head lower just a bit as the conversation turned a bit darker. Nothing too serious mind you, but he told me about those he left behind in Europe, and those that didn’t make it back. He lost quite a few good friends and afterwards his life was a bit of a roller coaster, filled with ups and downs.
Without sharing too much of his very personal story, he told me he wasn’t in very good health. Even though he didn’t come right out and say anything directly, I wondered just how much time he actually has left. It was then that he told me in the past he had considered suicide. Here I was with a complete stranger who was opening up to me, and I swear I didn’t know what to say. Regardless of your thoughts on religion, my next words didn’t come from me, they came from a much higher power. All I could think of was to say that I’m glad he didn’t follow through or I wouldn’t have ever had a chance to meet him, and wouldn’t have had an opportunity to lead by example to show my son the right thing to do. I told him that I loved him, and God loves him also. After some additional conversation, I again thanked him for his service and even gave him a hug! (Believe me I’m not usually a hugger.)
As I was walking to my car he told me his dream was to have his own home complete with a flag pole. I smiled and thought that I wish more people had that same dream. With a quick wave, I left his driveway and headed home. I’m not ashamed to admit this, but I wept. I wept as I drove, and as I pulled into my own driveway. I couldn’t help but choke back the tears as I thought about what had just happened. I began to question why God put me in such an emotional situation. I knew the right thing was to simply fold and return the flag and provide a gift to a veteran and show my son right from wrong. Then it donned on me. The returning of the flag, the chat with an elderly man, it wasn’t about me. It was about him! I’ll never know this for sure, but I think that this random act of kindness may have been what he needed to let him know that people still care, that his personal sacrifices and service still count for something. Hew now knows that a complete stranger cares about his well-being, and that there are still good people in this world and most importantly, this world is still worth living in!