That phrase carries a lot with it. It's a phrase that many of us as Veterans kind of shrug off and give an obligatory "Thank you" or an "I appreciate that" when someone says it to us. Why is it so hard for some of us to accept?
When I was on active duty, and especially after my first deployment, I had a massive chip on my shoulder. I looked at life very differently from my civilian friends and family. I was cynical about everything and looked at all aspects of my life through a lens of absolute negativity... even though I would have called it realistic, upon reflecting, it was definitely
I would hear "Thank you for your service" and almost laugh to myself. Outwardly, I would give the expected pre-programmed response, but my inner dialogue would default to, "If only you knew what I had to do, what I've seen, you wouldn't thank me." Thinking in that way was a footpath to hiding. It allowed me to put my expectations on the rest of the world. I would hear perfectly nice people give me thanks, and I couldn't accept it. I brushed their gratitude off and counted those people as ignorant and self-serving as if thanking me for something was a reflection of them needing to feel good about themselves.
My reactions and thought processes said more about me at that time than they did about anyone else. I couldn't accept a thank you because I hadn't dealt with my own trauma. Not because these civilian people had no clue what I had been through, but because of my lack of effort that was keeping me down.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine that I had served alongside on the west coast made his way through South Carolina and called me to meet up for lunch. We have been in contact via text and social media, but we hadn't seen each other in almost a decade. It was a great day. The sun was out, the air still a little brisk but warm enough to enjoy a meal outside in old downtown Summerville. We ate, we drank, and we laughed. Reminisced about deployment stories, people we had served with and got each other up to date on our own current happenings. When it came time for the check, our waitress came to the table and informed us that our bill was already taken care of. She didn't say who it was or if that person was still sitting amongst us. Instead, she thanked us for our service, and we left.
That moment struck me oddly. We weren't being particularly loud or boisterous about our conversation, and it's not like either one of us looked like we could still be on active duty. The person that paid for our meal was simply observant, and they had just overheard two old friends talking about the good ole days. Without making a grand gesture or creating a fanfare about paying our tab, they quietly did it and left. It was a sincere way to convey gratitude and say thank you without saying anything at all. To whomever that was, thank you.
As my active duty days grow smaller in the rearview, I feel my attitudes and perspectives shift.
The things I was so upset about now seem trivial. I guess it comes with age, but I am beginning to see the bigger picture. It wasn't that long ago that our servicemen and women came home from Vietnam and got a much different reception. Men and women who had to do the same things I did. Changing my perspective and being open to personal growth makes all the thank you's hit home a little harder.
It is ok to struggle with it. It is ok to feel uncomfortable with it. It is ok to accept it.
Thank you for your service.