Words Can’t Pay Our Debt

Veterans Day at Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, 2010

Words Can’t Pay Our Debt

I’ve been thinking about what to say on this Veteran’s Day for a few weeks.  LikeMother’s Day, it’s a holiday requiring gratitude, humility and respect, hardly convenient for column comedy.

So why did I decide to make a Veterans Day the topic?

Naturally, I felt like I should say something, and I kept thinking of all the thoughts I had about veterans, and only one of them had the faintest whiff of having punch line potential. I kept telling myself that I could build on it, somehow turn it into something worth reading.

I didn’t want to just say the same old phrases, because, a) I hate sounding like someone else, b) it feels like lazy writing, and c) none of them conveyed all the things I wanted to say.

I thought about all the people I knew who had served in the military, of my relatives who spent time doing all manner of less-than-pleasant things so that the rest of us could do things like not vote, write a Facebook post about our dissatisfaction with lines at the DMV, or organize a protest against the consumption of shellfish.

Not one of those things comes without a cost, and we all owe much more than a few clichéd phrases to the ones who pay those prices for us. And before you decide to blame veterans for those long lines at the DMV, I want to be clear, they are not responsible for the length of the line.

Then I thought about the veterans that I wasn’t related to, and the first to pop into my brain were Sgt. Malcolm Reynolds and Cpl.  Zoe Alleyne, who fought with the Independents against the Alliance. The Firefly marathon today probably had nothing to do with this. Probably.

Anyway, when I thought of them, I recalled all of the soldiers who struggle to find a place in the world when the war is over. I thought of all those who came back with wounds that no one could see, and those who were unemployed or homeless after giving up so much on our behalf.

And I wondered how I could write about those sorts of things without being completely depressing. How could I possibly put them inside a column without them becoming trivialized as a set-up for a joke? And, worse, how do I have the audacity to spend a mere handful of words on these issues without sounding like a world-class hypocrite?

Setting aside the fact that part of me is tempted by the idea of finally becoming a world-class anything, the rest of me prevailed by telling that small part that we can do better than being known as a hypocrite.

I probably should’ve stuck with those well-worn phrases. Thank you, veterans. We owe you more than a day and words that fall short.

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