Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Some things are just meant to happen

Some days things happen that aren't likely, but they happen anyway. Some meetings are either the result of random chance, or serendipity. Or maybe the Hand of God, if that's not too strong an assertion. I never understood those moments, but I've certainly experienced them.

Today, I experienced another of those moments.

I was at my desk this afternoon, trying to modify a computer program that the users said they wanted changed, but they hadn't given me detailed specifications about how they wanted it changed. This is like trying to write a book with no idea what it's about. Frustrating, aggravating, probably resulting in a product which has no use without extensive modification. But you have to do it anyway.

I got up from my desk and wondered the halls. Looking out the windows, I saw that the day was uncharacteristically sunny and dry, and there were two parking spaces only a few feet from the door to my office building.

Quick to jump on the opportunity I grabbed my coat and headed to the parking lot a half-mile away, where I had parked my car this morning. I knew I wouldn't finish my work day until well after dark, and I relished the opportunity to move the car closer so I wouldn't have to walk a long distance in the rainy conditions which were likely after dusk.

I hadn't got 20 feet from the door when I noticed a man with a briefcase standing on the sidewalk, looking around himself with obvious confusion. He was my age or older, but he hadn't aged well. The first clue was his full beard, at least a foot long in any direction, such a light grey that it might as well be white. He had on a cheap blue blazer, blue-and-white plaid trousers, and a white shirt without a tie. To top it off he had a blue baseball cap. At least he was color coordinated.

I walked up to him thinking that he was obviously lost in this canyon of brick buildings and trees and sidewalks going every direction, and as I approached he turned and focused on me.

"Excuse me" he said. "Is this the campus library building?"

"No", I said. "But if you follow this path between the buildings about a hundred yards, you'll find yourself at the north door of the Library. You have to cross the quad, but there are no turns."

"I see", he said. "Thank you. Can you tell me where the Martin Luther King Day lecture will be held?"

"I'm sorry, I have no knowledge of that lecture. I'm afraid I can't help you there."

"Never mind, I can find it from the Library."

As we talked, I focused on his blue baseball cap. It said VIETNAM VETERAN and it had little flag-shaped images representing Vietnam War Campaign and Service medals.

"Excuse me, but what unit were you in, in Vietnam?" I asked him.

He straightened up. Not quite a military bearing, but one less reminiscent of a grandfather, more like a soldier as he proudly said:

"Twenty Fifth Infantry, a Mech unit. Cu Chi".

"Tropical Lightening!", I said. "You're a long ways from Schofield Barracks. I was an Infantry Platoon Sergeant operating out of Dian in the Big Red One until they rotated back home, and then I was a REMF in the 25th Admin. Company in Cu Chi during the last half of my tour, in 1970."

He looked me straight in the eye, put his hand out for a shake. As he took my hand, he said "Welcome Home".

Welcome home, Brother" I said as I shook his hand. "Be well."

No other words were spoken, nor needed. We turned, parted, on our way to our respective destinations.

I've finally processed out of The Nam.

"Freedom has a taste, and for those who have fought for it, the taste is so sweet the protected will never know it."

-- General George S. Patton

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