The Good Book says that it is more blessed to give than receive and, the plurality of American voters notwithstanding, I agree. This year, Dad and I are doing something a little different. A long time friend of mine, and Ricochet member Liz Wirth, manages a motel down in Titusville, Florida. Each year, the motel coordinates with Mr. George Taylor, President of the National Veterans Homeless Support organization, to provide a room, hot meals, entertainment, gifts, and friendship to area homeless veterans. This year, Liz had some help, since my son Benjamin and his fiancee, Peggy, just relocated to the Orlando area.
So with the opportunity to visit with Benjamin and Peggy, and take the Ride of Pride to an event honoring our veterans, how could Dad and I say no? Christmas Eve, we pulled the rig into the parking lot. Since we are under a load, space had been set aside for the truck and trailer. Vets came out into the parking lot. They gathered on the balcony. They stood up from their Harleys. Cameras were aimed at the truck. And when we shut down the engine and climbed down from the cab, they applauded. It did our hearts good to see the faces of men and women who served, and who live a hard life today, light up at the sight of a show truck that was shined to perfection in their honor.
The rest of the evening was spent visiting with these remarkable people, trading stories, answering questions, and just listening to their stories. At sunset, Santa Claus arrived on a Harley, and then dinner was served. Soon, one gentleman took his harmonica and serenaded everyone in the parking lot (and beyond) with a rendition of Proud Mary that was unique in both its feeling and application. Soon, some karaoke equipment was set up in the lobby, and with the help of the DJs, veterans began singing their hearts out. What they lacked in musicality, they made up in sheer enthusiasm and happiness.
Many of these people live in the woods, in much the sort of conditions they became accustomed to while on active duty. Some that were here last year are no longer with us. And even as many of them wrestle with their own demons, they were, to a person, kind, courteous, and appreciative of the efforts made on their behalf. They’ve seen more than their share of tragedy, combat, and hardship, yet there they were on this Christmas morning picking up cigarette butts, helping Liz empty the trash, cleaning the place up, helping those that had helped them.
Today, while Dad and I spent the afternoon with Benjamin and Peggy, these vets enjoyed hot meals and fellowship with each other. This evening, as I write these words, the guys are engaged in a karaoke contest. We’ve heard an asthmatic harmonica, and people who can’t quite hit the high musical notes but who know how to reach the highest heart strings.
Speaking to the guys tonight before the singing commenced, Liz addressed these noble, homeless veterans and said, “So many have so much and they still aren’t happy with it,… these people who look down on you can’t imagine what they could learn by looking up to you. Your circumstances do not define who you are. Only your heart does.”
For Dad and I, this has been an extraordinary treat. We spent Christmas in the company of heroes, and while we are grateful to have contributed in some measure to their Christmas this year, it is we who have been given the gift of spending this special day with these very special people. What a wonderful way to spend Christmas.