Months ago, my son, JRP, and I crammed into an already-crowded elevator. We had just visited Mama (JRP’s beloved Granny) at her assisted living apartment, and we chatted about our visit as the elevator doors opened. Two elderly gentlemen were already aboard, and with their wheelchair and walker, there was little room to wiggle. Both men looked down, and by down I mean that they looked toward the floor, but they also looked rather alone, and perhaps even sad. There was no eye contact, no greeting, nothing but the sound of the elevator doors closing. In the silence, I sensed JRP drawing nearer to the man with the walker. He was trying to read the gentleman’s cap. Worried that JRP might offend the gentleman by coming too close, I began to gently tug his arm. JRP gently tugged back and asked, “Were you a soldier in the Asian Arena?”
After a second or two, the old man looked up into JRP’s eyes, smiled and said, “Young man, I was.” The same gentleman who had looked so solemn moments before became animated as he shared a quick version of his World War II story. He told of being a Marine and fighting at Okinawa. JRP was captivated. When the gentleman paused, the other man, sitting in his wheelchair, looked up and said, “I fought too.” JRP excitedly asked about his experience, and the gentleman shared some highlights from his personal World War II narrative when he was in the Navy at Iwo Jima.
By the time we arrived at the first floor, the two gentlemen were energized and simply transformed. I thanked them for sharing their stories, and then JRP thanked them for their service. I told them that they had made JRP’s day, and mine too. Both veterans smiled as they shuffled off the elevator. They waved as we parted ways.
Never had I been so thankful to be on a slow-moving elevator. And never had I been so proud of JRP. In his own inquiring way, he told both men that they mattered. He showed genuine interest in the gentlemen’s wartime stories, and they were delighted to share highlights with him. I remember thinking at the time, “Thanks, God, for orchestrating such a beautiful exchange. We just had our very own Veterans Day.”
As it turns out, it was the gentlemen’s last one. I found out recently that both men passed away this fall. I was sad to hear the news, but I smiled as I remembered our elevator ride. Thanks to JRP, Veterans Day 2013 came early for those gentlemen, and I will be forever grateful that I witnessed it.