As I stepped onto the bus the other day I saw a young man who had had most of his face blown off. Only his left eye was partially open. But it was a clear, sharp, brown eye, and it twinkled as if it were looking out from behind a Halloween mask.
If you had made a clay bust of his head before he went to Iraq and then punched the clay squarely in the nose and mouth, you probably would replicate his mangled appearance.
Like others, I immediately looked away after initial eye contact. Then I was ashamed of myself and decided to engage the young snowboarder in conversation. I asked him how the snow was, and he cheerfully tried to talk through the hole that served as his mouth. If you listened carefully you could make out most of what he was saying. It turned out he and I are both from Illinois. And, as I have a good friend who is in the USMC and who served two tours in Iraq, I asked if he was a Marine. You never ask a Marine, were you in the Marine Corps. He said no, he had served in the Army Airborne. In Iraq? Yes, all over.
I didn't ask him any more questions about the obvious. He was now enjoying his second year of skiing because of the Adaptive Sports program here and "shreddin' " a new life for himself.
I thought of the old saying, "I complained because I didn't have any shoes, until I saw a man without feet." How utterly insignificant were any of my problems, and how great a debt I felt.
He didn't start a war. And, he may have made a different decision about invading Iraq had he been President Bush. But he had volunteered and taken an oath to support and defend the U.S. from all enemies foreign and domestic. That was his job. He came home forever changed. There was one thing, however, that had not changed—his courage and will to live life to the fullest. His heart hasn't the vaguest notion of what his face looks like. His heart is what he fought with, and now happily rides his board with.
Thank you young man, and thank you Adaptive Sports.