Serving a Veteran

So, it’s November. Summer seems like a distant memory, and I can almost taste the Thanksgiving sweets that will be in my oven next week. It’s a season of turning leaves and crisp fall air, deciding which sides pair best with turkey, and writing Santa a letter full of your unspoken wishes. But despite all of distractions during these next 2 months, today we need to pause. Today we honor the incredible men and women who have served this country, and we recognize their sacrifices that give us the ability to dream of warm apple cider and Christmas cookies. These men and women have given us more than we could ever thank, most days their work goes unnoticed and underappreciated, but for one day, let’s take a moment from our festivities to fully value their sacrifice.

This past summer I had the amazing privilege to meet a man named Willard. Willard and his wife had a brick house in the woods on a beautiful lot, quietly set back from the road, with sunlight that dances through the trees as you sit and listen to Willard’s calm voice, telling yet another story.

From the outside you may never know that anything was wrong with this picture-perfect home. The brick on the outside looks clean and fresh, and the roof is brand new, but then you step inside. Inside, each floor joist was cracked, there were circles that Willard had drawn onto the carpet to identify where it was unsafe for his wife to step, the home was trashed and destroyed, and a life was disrupted. Willard and his wife were the victims of a corrupt contractor, a man who collected payment from this couple, did half of the work and destroyed the rest of the home. The home was unlivable, Willard was renting down the road, and money was running out fast with payments on 2 properties. They were going to have to abandon their home, the place they had lived since Willard returned from Vietnam.

Willard and his wife did not have the easiest life, but I promise you it was a life full of joy and hope. Someone came along and tried to take advantage of them, tried to stifle that happiness, and they almost succeeded. Willard told me of the constant anger he used to hold towards the contractor who cheated him. When I first sat down with him, ASP had been working on his home for only 3 days, and already in those 3 days Willard had dropped his charges against the contractor and was returning to his old, joyful self. When I walked up to his home for the first time, half of the volunteers were working, the other half were gathered around Willard, hanging on to every word of his endless stories, not wanting to miss a moment of his wisdom.

Sometimes it is easy to overlook the changes ASP’s presence truly makes. Someone could walk up to that worksite and see floors being replaced, trash being cleaned, plumbing being replaced, ASP volunteers working—and that in and of itself is incredible. But what they may not notice is the hope that is growing in the hearts of Willard and his wife, they may not know that this couple has started going back to church since ASP began work because of the love of God they felt surrounding their home each day, and they may not realize that these volunteers are becoming a part of this family.

Willard told me during one visit that he didn’t know how he was going to say goodbye to the volunteers each week, he said, “it’s like cutting off your arms and them going away and then cutting off your legs and them going away, and then you’re just laying there sad… sure you could reattach them or get prosthetics, but it’ll never be the same.”

Nothing will ever be the same for this couple.

In honor of Veterans Day today, I have a few charges for each of you. First, be kind. Be kind to everyone; those you work for, those you pass on the street, those you buy your morning coffee from, those telemarketers who call your home phone during dinner, and the thousands of strangers we meet each and every day. Willard was a stranger to that contractor, and that contractor treated one of our honored veterans poorly. You don’t know everyone’s story, so treat everyone with all the respect and kindness in the world.

Second, thank a veteran. Instill a new sense of hope and joy into their lives. For our volunteers in that small Tennessee town this summer they did this through home repair, but there are thousands of ways to say thank you. Go out of your way to hold a door, write a letter, lend a hand. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do something.

Finally, love one another. This has been a year of uncertainty in so many ways, and many people are fearful. I firmly believe that the only way to combat fear is through love. Love abundantly, love without strings or expectations, love without qualifiers. Just love. You never know who that person is, or what’s their story, but love them anyways. Our veterans fight each day for us to have the ability to love.

Each night I fall asleep looking at this small rooster on my nightstand, a rooster carved into a tree found in the hills of Tennessee, a rooster that a kind and gentle veteran carved by hand for me and many others to have. My constant reminder to be kind, to say thank you , and to love abundantly.

Thank you Willard for your service, and thank you to all of our veterans today, and everyday.

Cara Nagy is spending a year of service with ASP and serving as a Fellow within the Advancement Department. She has previously served with ASP as a volunteer coordinator in Breathitt, KY in 2014,  a staff liaison in Western NC and Eastern TN in 2015, and as a Center Director  in Fentress, TN in 2016. She will be blogging a series for ASP this summer called “Always Something to Ponder” as she travels through ASP’s summer counties visiting with and hearing the stories of volunteers, families, staffers, donors, and community members. Cara has recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with her Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and is from Cary, NC.