She was in the ballpark last night, and she made my week. It’s something my hometown Washington Nationals do at a certain point of each game. They turn the cameras on a group of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who’ve just returned from overseas.
Last night, I believe they showed us people who’ve returned home from Afghanistan. The jumbo scoreboard screen showed them as the PA system blared that song: “… and I’ll proudly stand up next to you and defend her to this day…” We stood and cheered them with a louder, heartier cheer than any of the noise we’d made while the Nats scored seven runs in their half of the third inning.
Then they showed a close-up of her. She stood amidst thirty soldiers or so; men and women, black, white and brown, who did dirty, dangerous work on behalf of my country in a faraway place. She could be a wife and mother who spent nights wondering whether she’d ever see her family again.
She was crying.
Who knows what she was thinking about and what she was giving thanks for. They showed her tears and twenty-two thousand people, some for the Cubs and some for the Nats; some who vote Republican and some who vote Democrat; some who agree with our foreign policy and some who don’t; cheered even more loudly.
I wanted that crowd noise, those cheers of thanks and affirmation, to last her a lifetime.
On the way home, my son asked me what my favorite part of the game was. It had been quite a contest: One team clawed back from eight runs behind to finally win in the last inning. There were two unbelievably athletic defensive plays that brought everyone to their feet with delight, and there was drama right up to the final out. But I asked my boy if he remembered when they showed the soldiers on the screen and we cheered for them.
This morning, I’m filled with something I can share with both my liberal and my conservative friends. That servicewoman’s tears reminded me that there is something unique and beautiful about our country that politicos on neither right nor left have been able to screw up. I don’t know how she votes, but something in her heart that’s deeper than political ideology marks the United States, for all its shortcomings, as still being a different, and dare I say a better kind of nation from so many others.
Whatever hardships she faced, whatever heartaches she endured, she wasn’t drafted or conscripted. She chose to sacrifice a part of her life in service to the rest of us. Last night, she brought twenty-two thousand of us together.