What is the true value of any number? I suppose it depends on your perspective, and how much it impacts or touches your life.
In terms of money, it is probably the cost of dinner for two, or a tank of gasoline. In terms of age, 8 years shy of the average life expectancy in the United States of America. In terms of time, it is slightly over an hour, an amount that most of us likely waste each and every day on social media. In terms of miles, probably less than many commute per day to work. In terms of people, it is not enough to fill a movie theater, let alone a stadium. In terms of life, it is a fraction of the cost that some communities pay to ensure we can continue our way of life.
It is the number of SEALs that have died since 9/11.
It is a small number in comparison to the grand total, but it is a number that is very close to me. Most of the men that make up that list of 71 were close friends, not just a random number or name on a wall. How many of you could list the names of 71 men you know, each committed enough to give their life for a principle, for people they have never met, for you? Most would likely struggle to list 71 friends they consider truly close in the world outside of social media. It is a “small” number, unless it has touched your life.
In the previous decade and a half, 6877 men and women have died overseas, wearing the uniform of our nation. That number will only continue to grow, but military deaths are only a piece of the puzzle. Here at home, there are men and women who put on a uniform every day, and their service and sacrifice is as important and as impactful as any solider. Police, Fire Fighters, First Responders and Emergency personnel are the often-invisible glue that holds our world together. Their loss, their murder, and their impact must be recognized.
During this time of year, I find myself thinking about the past much more than I normally do, and I struggle with feeling guilty. I feel guilty that I am here, with an amazing family, and others are not. I feel guilty that I was not there for them. It is irrational, but I wish I had been there, in the moment, because I feel that maybe the situation would have ended differently. I feel guilty, because I have seen the true cost of what we have, in time, effort, and blood. I feel guilty, because I am here, enjoying the fruits of their effort, and sacrifice. This time of year, more than any other, it weighs on my shoulders.
I find myself thinking of my family, and my loved ones, and how different their life would be, if my name was included on that list of 71. I imagine a holiday, traditionally celebrated by bringing those you love close becoming a time where the size, weight, and gravity of the void are overwhelming and unavoidable. I imagine my children without a father, and it nearly brings me to my knees. I imagine their lives, and how they would be different, if I had walked through our door years ago, never to return. How many of the memories they have of me would remain. Would any? My daughter was 2 the last time I left in uniform, would she ever know or remember what it felt like for me to hold her? I know many families where these thoughts are anything but imagined, they are their reality.
Those 71 men left behind 86 children.
These families, and others like them are everywhere around you, most just don’t take the time to notice. These families, and these communities that serve others bear the burden of what holds this country together. Once you are touched by these numbers, you will forever view the world we live in differently.
In my opinion, very few people take the time to think about the costs of what we have. To sit, think, reflect, and appreciate the effort of so many communities working together to make what we have possible. Instead, they spend their time with their heads down, focusing on the two inches in front of their face. They are the center of the universe; others exist to serve them. They demand rights and freedoms, but would never lift a finger to provide or protect them. They define the very entitlement they attempt to paint others with.
We would be a better society if we took more time to appreciate the sacrifices associated with these numbers, and the real impact they have on families across this nation. We would be more compassionate, tolerant, and understanding. We would be slower to act, and quicker to think. We would take more time to consider the consequences of our actions on others. We would realize the inaccuracy of the self-portrait we are painting for the rest of the world to see.
Perhaps it would provide perspective. Perhaps it would allow us to appreciate the breadth and depth of opportunity, and boundless freedoms afforded to those that call themselves Americans. Perhaps it would allow us to openly accept the transgressions of our past; the mistakes we have made along the way, the horrendous things our nation has done to its own people, without disregarding how far we have come, and how much progress has been made. Perhaps it would allow us to stop framing first world challenges as third world problems. Perhaps, we would be a better nation for it.
This holiday season, hopefully you will be surrounded by those you love. Hopefully the holidays will be only a time of joy. Cherish the time together. Hopefully it will move you to find a moment, a single moment, to think outside of yourself, to appreciate what we have, and what it has taken to get us this far.