Serve – To act as a servant. To render assistance; be of use; help.
Servant – A person in the service of another.
Service – An act of helpful activity; help; aid.
I recall with vivid clarity, 24 years ago December 23, 1996. It was two days before Christmas and for only the second time in my entire life up to that point, it would be a Christmas that I would celebrate without my Mother or Father. Both had died 31 days apart the year prior; first my Mother on October 31, 1995 and then my father on December 2, 1995.
I couldn’t tell you what that Christmas of 1995 was like as I was still numb and in shock with their passing that year, however, a year later, the reality settled in that they were not going to be there to wake up to as I had done with childlike exuberance every year that never wavered even into my 30’s.
On December 23, 1996 I received a visit from my dear friend Rick Stark. He was and is a part of my life to this day as our relationship has spanned over 25 years and counting. On that day, he stopped by just to see how I was doing and to deliver a gift for the holidays. In my still raw grief, I shared with him that I couldn’t accept it. It was then that he shared with me words that I’ve not forgotten since.
He said, “Brett, the real gift is in your receiving mine. It is easy to be the servant because I am in control of the giving. However, the level of trust, vulnerability and generosity that is necessary to accept it far exceeds my ability to give it.”
With tears in my eyes and love in my heart, I accepted the greatest present I had ever received.
As special as his friendship and service has been to me over the years, there is another that is even greater. One in which the only thing that I have done to deserve it is to have been born in the United States of America. It is a relationship that has served me for 55 years and counting; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year (366 on a leap year), and has never wavered in its commitment to me. It has provided me the opportunity to have a roof over my family’s head, food on the table, a job that I love and the freedom to express my God given potential.
Even though the benefits of this relationship are so profound, the most remarkable thing about it is that I don’t even know the person(s) with whom it is with. They love me so much; they are even willing to give the ultimate sacrifice on my behalf…their life. Though I don’t know their names individually, I know their families intimately.
They are the soldiers of the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. They are the men and women who protect our right to be free, to choose our own destiny, and to discover our full potential. They serve not because of what they get, but because of what they give in their service to our Country and humanity. I believe that the greatest gift that we can give to our veterans and soldiers on this day to celebrate them is our heartfelt acknowledgement for their selfless service.
As my dear friend Rick shared so long ago, the real gift is in our receiving theirs. To my Grandfather Charles Banks Sr., my father Charles Penager, my father in law Steve Byriel and all other Veterans and soldiers of our armed forces please accept my sincere thanks, gratitude and appreciation for loving me and all Americans enough…to serve.