Stand and deliver
Published: January 2, 2012
Exquisitely coiffed and elegantly clad, they glittered in formalwear and dress uniforms, every medal and ribbon in place. Their faces were expectant, polite, noncommital.
They were there for a night out, a break from the kids, a meal they didn’t have to prepare or carry out. Food and drink, prizes, music and dancing awaited them. Only one thing stood between them and a good time -- me.
Glancing down at my notes, I nearly bumped my nose on the mike. I looked up, attempted a calm smile and thought, “This would be less painful for all concerned if I just put it in my column and let you read it with your morning coffee … or ignore it and spill your coffee on it if you want to.”
As always, when faced with an audience, a microphone and hieroglyphic notes that made perfect sense yesterday, I asked myself: “Why did I say yes? I’m a writer, not a speaker.”
I guess I remembered that a little too late. So, I did the only thing I could do. I plunged.
“Thank you so much for inviting me to be here tonight to honor the military family …”
I was asked to be the speaker for a Navy ball because the theme for the night was military family and because the organizers were trusting souls.
I had prepared a few remarks about the things we experience in military life that we never thought we would do or could do — and even some of the things we hope we’ll never have to do.
As an Air Force brat, I never thought I’d marry someone in the military. Now, of course, I’m glad I did. My husband, sitting at the nearest table, smiled encouragingly. He’s a seasoned speaker, knows what an introvert I am and feels my pain.
Like most military family members, I’ve been to parts of the world I never dreamed I’d see, had experiences I never imagined: wonderful, painful and downright miserable. If I’d known better, I might have tried to avoid some of them — like this one, perhaps.
I made a few weak attempts at humor and received polite tittering. It seemed to come mostly from the people at my table, who would have to face me over dinner when I finished.
Eons passed, yet I was only halfway through my notes. I’d timed my remarks at barely more than 10 minutes, but surely I had aged 10 years since I stood up. Aware of every gray hair on my head, I saw young wives in lovely dresses, sailors sharp in their dark blue crackerjacks, decorated Marines and soldiers who know firsthand about combat.
These are people who face deployment with wills written and funerals preplanned. What could I possibly say to them about the weight of risk and responsibility, balanced with the rewards of the life they’ve chosen?
Wartime injuries change lives and end some. Budget cuts threaten benefits that help all of us make ends meet. We don’t serve our country to make the Fortune 500, but we have to care for our families.
One war was recently declared “over.” Other battlefronts remain. I don’t know what the remainder of military life holds for my own family; how can I reassure a roomful of strangers that the good will outweigh the bad?
Perhaps risk and reward can’t be balanced. How do you weigh the value of one against the other? In military life — in every life — we are called to do things we never wanted to do. We will choose either to do what is comfortable or what makes a difference.
Later in the parking lot, a sailor about to get in his car spoke to us as we approached ours.
“Thank you for what you said, ma’am,” he said. “My wife and I really appreciated it.”
Whether good intentions overcame poor delivery, or he was simply an exceptionally kind young man, I was grateful.
Fortunately for me, it doesn't take brilliant oratory to remind military families what they already know about their lives. Anyone with these two sentences to rub together could do it: This life is costly beyond description. What it gives in return is not available at any price.