How do you feel when you visit the hospital and walk down those long
corridors crowded with people --- doctors, hospital staffers, patients
who are mostly elderly? Do you see the patients as they are today,
fighting the ravages of age, injury or poor health, or do you sometimes
imagine them as they might have been at an earlier time in their lives?
If you’re my friend Bill Sanner, a submariner and veteran of the U.S. Navy, this is the VA hospital, and for some reason your mind has decided to play that trick on you. You suddenly find yourself in a time machine of sorts.
Bill tells me that walking down one of those long halls during a recent hospital visit, he suddenly saw the older vets in a different time, when they were very young, in their late teens or early twenties, all looking sharp and crisp in their uniforms or jungle fatigues. (As he relates it, it sounds to me like an episode of the old Rod Serling TWILIGHT ZONE.) The soldiers and sailors were walking briskly, not needing wheelchairs and canes at that young age, unless, of course, they’d been wounded in service to their country and were perhaps facing months or years of recovery.
Going back in time like that and seeing those who served as they were during their years of service gave Bill a different perspective on the lives of his fellow veterans. They were in their youth, with their whole adult lives ahead of them, yet they were risking their entire future to serve their country. They had no idea what their fate would be, but they gave it up to God or destiny. Bill saw their lives as reflecting a true patriotism and a sense of honor that are very much diminished in the present day.
What do younger folks who have never served their country see when they walk down a busy hospital corridor among veterans like these? Are they touched by the lingering sense of honor and patriotism and willing sacrifice, or do they just see sick old people whose care costs a lot of money?
Bill points out that those younger individuals who don’t appreciate such attributes are themselves advancing towards the same ultimate fate as their elders, though they no doubt manage to keep from thinking about it very much. But Bill himself is very much aware of being on the same path, and he feels great pride as he travels down that same long corridor with his fellow vets.