This is a post about Veterans Day, but I have to digress a bit, including into my recent colonoscopy.
As 63-year-old men go, I am healthy. True, I clearly need to lose some weight and I could certainly stand to get more exercise, but I take no prescription medications. My back and joints work pretty well. Good blood pressure and my lab work is okay. I am lucky, actually very lucky.
So what does my personal health have to do with our nationwide practice representing veterans and military families, let alone Veterans Day? We do medical cases and at this point in my almost 35-year career I can safely say that I have read thousands of medical records. Frequently, I look at the records of veterans who are my age (and sometimes younger) and I just shake my head. Many are on multiple medications and their problem list is a long one, often with several debilitating conditions. Many of them are a wreck and clearly have been for an extended period. Sometimes, I confess to a bit of smug self-righteousness when I note the various “lifestyle” factors that have impacted our clients and potential clients. Not good on my part, but after all I am a lawyer and ego is an occupational hazard. Often I read these records and I am vividly reminded of just how lucky I am.
Regrettably, my good fortune is also often forgotten by me. This week I had a colonoscopy. The procedure itself is not a big deal, but the preparation involves not eating the day before and getting “cleaned out” the night before – as in all night. By the time we got to the outpatient facility, I was grumpy, miserable and feeling sorry for myself. After I got home, had something to eat and the sedation had worn off, of course I went back to work -- and naturally this involved reviewing records related to our various cases and potential cases. As medical records go, that afternoon presented me with several sets that were particularly gruesome. What these veterans had gone through was months and years of misery, both from their underlying ailments and the attempted treatments. In one of those flashes of insight, it hit me that my colonoscopy wasn’t even a 1 on the 1 to 10 scale of unpleasant medical experiences. It was not even a .1. The veterans we try to help have often had years of illness and treatment very close to the 10 mark. And I didn’t have to spend all day with hundreds of other patients in a big impersonal government hospital. By 9:30, I was at home by the fire working on my laptop with my dog sleeping at my feet. My self-pity was selfish indeed.
Let's finally get to Veterans Day. Every year we honor those who have served. It’s because of their sacrifice that we enjoy the benefits of this great nation. Don’t let anyone fool you: We are a great nation and we always have been. That is sometimes hard to believe by what you may hear and see on the news or social media, but for all our differences – which are quite real – the American experiment is special. It is those who have answered the call to service who have protected this noble endeavor. Those protectors are the same ill and broken down people described in the grim medical records I review.
The folks on pages in front of me are not young and invulnerable. Far from it, but they are veterans and that means they are special. As a society I think we frequently forget how lucky we are – just like I forget my good fortune and whine about a colonoscopy. We adopt a certain cultural self-pity that is truly destructive. Let’s remind ourselves, however, that the benefits of our society didn’t just magically appear. Nor are they self-sustaining. People had to be willing to fight to keep and preserve what we now enjoy. Those people are our veterans.
Honoring our veterans is a good mechanism for looking beyond our self-pity and selfishness. Veterans deserve our respect every day, but especially on November 11. Gratitude to our veterans is also a gift to ourselves. It reminds us that we are all part of something that is larger than ourselves, much larger. God knows we need that reminder these days.