Brad and I sat in a KFC in Cambridge, Ohio, watching some guy on the overhead screen shoot foul shots. Brad had taken leave so we could take this trip to see our godchild confirmed. We idly watched the foul shot shooter demonstrate his prowess to the oooing and ahhing schoolchildren. The guy claimed that he was shooting a million baskets "for the troops."
"Looks to me like 'the troops' are just the excuse he needs to get his foul shot on TV," I grumbled. "I'm sure that all those Soldiers in Afghanistan are staying up nights to see if they get their million baskets. Woo hoo. Another basket for me!!"
"I don't want any baskets," Brad said.
"What do you want?" I asked him, suddenly curious. "There are good people in this country. They do want to show their appreciation to the military. So what do you want from them?"
"Time," Brad said, leaning across the Formica tabletop. "Oh Honey, I just need more time. I need more time at home to get stuff done and be with you and the boys."
He talked on and suddenly I understood what he was trying to tell me. Brad wasn't complaining about any of us at home. He wasn't whining about work. He wasn't mouthing any blah blah blah about the one percent that serves in the military.
Instead, Brad was talking about how he actually experiences military life as a fight for time. It sounded like something out of that new Justin Timberlake movie, "In Time." The premise of the movie is that in the future, time becomes the new currency. Time is what you earn at work. Time is what you spend like cash. After age 25, you see time hemorrhaging away at an unbelievable rate.
I wonder if that is really what the members of our military feel.
I wonder if they feel they have mortgaged their time to the military, to the United States, to all of us, in order to get what they want out of life. I wonder if they feel like they, too, are in constant time debt, closer to time-debtors prison every day.
During our visit to Ohio, I saw Brad deeply enjoy talking over the election with my mom and having dinner with our godchild and working with my dad. Yet in the downtimes, the between times, the time spent waiting, I saw him wishing he was somewhere else, accomplishing something else. I saw what he must be like during the third hour of a meeting at work, when he must look like he is wishing for home. I saw him experience the passage of time in a way I never do. I manage my time and I rush and I could use more time, but not like that. Not like him.
I guess that is what makes Veterans Day such an awkward, uncertain event every year. We Americans may know that we are accepting/appropriating/taking the time of those men and women who serve in the military. We may honestly want to give back in kind. But somehow we know there is no equivalent. There is no fix. There is no fair trade.
Instead there is just this awareness that those well-meant hours spent shooting foul shots for the troops would have been better spent if we could have packed them up in brown boxes, tied them with string and sent them to the troops marked: Spend These At Home.