We stood in the company of great men. We stood among former Rangers, Special Forces, and Marines. Even accounting for drunken embellishments, these men were to be revered. The night was late as I stumbled upon a shoebox. The box was out of place. It sat in a room for which one would not think of finding a box such as this. Its contents were visible only enough to catch one’s curiosity. I removed the lid and peered into its contents. What I found was a box filled with medals, photos, coins… the remnants of a military career. Its contents seemed so recklessly discarded in a place forgotten.
I stood, admiring its content, curious as to how it had arrived at such a place. I stood admiring its contents amongst the drunken raucous behind me. Moments before I had been a boisterous participant in the drunken raucous, and now I stood, paralyzed in curiosity and the nagging feeling of anguish. Why had such a box been placed in such a place as this? Its attempt to be discarded was obvious. The disturbed dust around it and lack of such upon its lid made its arrival recent.
As I stood, I was joined by a single man. He stood, staring at its contents without a word. I looked up and asked, “Do you know whose this is?” A moment passed, he reached down and lightly touched the recklessly discarded contents. He turned his head only enough that the corners of his eyes met my gaze, and replied, “It’s mine.” I was not quite sure as to my reply or my feelings. In some regards, I was a kid caught in the cookie jar. I had unearthed this man’s life in a time and place one might not want it unearthed. Yet, I had this deep seeded desire to understand how and why.
He stood, staring at the contents. He stood, sifting through the box, transfixed and captivated. I looked at him and asked why it was there. His head cocked only so that our eyes could barely meet one another. His answer was honest and untrue. He said the contents were worthless, that they were nothing compared to the giants that walked among us. In that moment, and the moments that led to their hasty and reckless discarding, he believed they meant nothing. Yet, the contents meant everything to him, and they meant something to me, to those around him, and to those who cared about him.
I began picking up the items, asking what they meant and why they had ended up in that box. Each question brought an immediate barrage of memories. After a few questions, I stood there, staring at the glossy-eyed man, picking up item after item. He told me what each of them meant and why they were in that box, without provocation. His glossy-eyed glance met my glossy eyes only a few times. His glance locked onto the items that represented a proud part of his life. He told the stories as if I was not even there, as if looking up and seeing me startled him. An hour passed as the last item was dropped into the box. His glossy eyes met my glossy eyes. What stood before me was a man in pain. He stood there, completely unaware of the time that had elapsed.
“It is all worthless, who even cares?” His words were furious and honest.
“How long have we been standing here?” I asked calmly.
“I don’t know, a few minutes?” he asked in angered confusion.
“Over an hour…”
“So, I cared enough to listen, and… you cared enough to share your stories… for over an hour…”
The once recklessly discarded are now proudly displaced once again.
In life, there are these moments, these windows of opportunity. They are these moments of real connection. They are moments that matter more than we might ever know. Life is never too busy for these moments because these moments might be life itself. Seize these moments. Stop and become attuned. These moments are moments of deep, honest, and real human connection. These moments are windows into the human soul. They are the memories etched into stone. They are the moments that matter the most.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.