February 18, 2015
On January 27, 2015 I took a day off from work to go fishing. I always take that day off each year in remembrance of my father, who passed away in 2007. Bass fishing was one of the things we both loved to do (although we rarely ever did it together). It’s funny – I feel as if he’s with me now though every time I go fishing and especially on January 27.
This time around, I took a detour. I didn’t find myself on a lake focused on catching fish. My life has been incredibly busy with work, the passing of my mother and all the other things that fill up one’s life. Fishing requires a lot of focus and it’s not enjoyable when your mind is racing all the time.
My wife Cheryl came up with a great idea for me and a way that I could still feel connected to my father. I went to the movies, but not to see just any movie – to see “American Sniper.” My father spent nearly 30 years of his life in the Marines and this was exactly the kind of movie, he would love. The fact that it was directed by Clint Eastwood would make it that much more appealing to him.
What a movie.
As I walked out of the theatre, I felt a little bit numb. I knew the movie had an effect on me, but I wasn’t sure what that was. I kept saying to myself – “nobody died today.” I kept saying that because I thought no matter how bad my day is, no matter how busy work is or how complicated life is in general – at least, nobody in my family or in my circle of friends – died today.
I saw my father take his last breath. I saw my mother do the same and I watched her suffer and struggle along the way as she battled pulmonary fibrosis. I saw my father-in-law Charles battle cancer and I was there when he took his last breath. Those were horrible days. Three of the worst days of my life. Everything else really isn’t that important when you put things into the proper perspective. And that’s what the movie did for me. It reminded me of proper perspective.
Sometimes we focus on things that in the grand scheme of things aren’t that important. They’re not life and death matters.
I haven’t stopped thinking about American Sniper since I saw it. I haven’t stopped thinking about Chris Kyle and the thousands of others who put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms. We’re the land of the free and home of the brave and Chris Kyle represented the very best of that.
What a person. What a hero. What an American.
The movie made me want to shake the hand of every solider and veteran I could find. It made me want to just say thank you, thank you, thank you. There aren’t words enough that can fully capture the gratitude I have for our veterans. I’m the product of a military family and I have always respected the armed forces, but sometimes even I need a little reminder. I don’t think I’ve thanked the men and women who serve enough.
I thought about a time a few years back when I was in Seattle for business. It also happened to be a time when the Angels were in town to face Seattle. I was staying in a near-by hotel and after work, headed to the game. I was in the elevator when an older gentleman joined me. He was wearing a baseball cap with a Navy logo and the name of a ship he must have served on. I commented on his hat and he provided me a little background.
As we hit the ground floor and prepared to step out, I reached out to shake his hand and I said, “Thank you for your service.” The man looked stunned. His reaction surprised me, as he gathered himself and said, “No one has ever thanked me before.” He was very moved by those five little words.
I walked away thinking how sad that here was a man who looked to be in his 70’s and no one had ever thanked him for his service. How could that be?
I was about to go do something very American – watch a baseball game and I couldn’t believe that no one had ever thanked this American for what he did.
I love baseball. I also love my country. Maybe the two go hand in hand. I think about the great Americans who not only played baseball, but also served their country. People like Ted Williams and Jerry Coleman and I feel like the game and the armed forces are somehow connected. I love it when veterans are recognized at baseball games and are asked to stand and be recognized. I love it when Navy Seals parachute out of the sky to deliver the American flag before a game and I still get chills when Marine Corp fighter pilots fly over the stadium during our National Anthem.
How lucky am I that I live in America and get to enjoy America’s favorite pastime? How lucky am I that individuals like Chris Kyle have made it possible for me to live the life I live? How tragic that his life was cut short and that his family has to live on without him.
Baseball will be back soon. Pitchers and catchers will report in less than a month. It’s been a long winter and I can’t wait for baseball to be return. That’s one of the great thing about baseball; it always returns. Not so with some of the men and women serving overseas in our armed forces. You might even say they might not return so that baseball can.
Think about that.
I’ll be thinking about Chris Kyle when I head to the stadium this year. I’ll also be thinking about my father, who I don’t recall ever thanking for his service – which included two tours in Vietnam. I probably took it for granted – just like the friends and family of the gentleman I met in Seattle. Shame on us; shame on me.