This is a true story.
We were at a Texas Rangers game a year ago September.
The crowd was large and excited. The game was going well for our side with good pitching and some home runs. Stadium food was everywhere - peanuts, ice cream, hot dogs, cotton candy and a collection of cold beverages aplenty.
On almost every aisle, the concessionaires in iridescent yellow shirts climbed up and down the sections with the occasional shout of "cold beer, soft drinks, ice cold water" heard above the noise of the crowd. Think about it. These guys carried heavy insulated boxes loaded with ice and drinks. They stopped and started, climbed stairs and went back down, collected cash and made change; all the while working to make the fans happy and their stay at the ballpark memorable. Sure, they got paid and received tips, but it takes a person who is willing to work hard for this job. Besides, some fans are never happy about the prices.
But what we saw is not about the concessionaire, the heavy lifting and low pay, the fans or even the cold drinks. It's about being witness to an act of patriotism or what happens when two patriots meet.
Our "cold drink" guy was headed up the stairs in our section one more time when he was hailed by a fan in the section just across the way. He stopped, put the box down across the steps and attended to the request.
As he turned back toward us, a young man, a very young-looking young man, came down between the rows of seats and asked about the price of his favorite beverage. Undoubtedly, because he looked so young, he was used to showing his ID and he handed it over without being asked. The price was announced and he opened his wallet and pulled out the money.
Our concessionaire looked carefully at the ID.
"Are you active duty?" he asked the young man,
"Yes, sir," came the reply and he said where he was from.
The chunks of ice shifted to fill the space now empty in the box where the requested drink had been.
"Here's your change," said the man in the yellow shirt, as he handed the young soldier not only the beverage he asked for but all of his money back.
The weather at the ballpark that night had been dicey at best; cloudy with light rain, heavy enough to bring out umbrellas and rain hats sometimes. Maybe it was the reflection off the iridescent yellow shirt or maybe the lights caught the rain drops just right. For some reason, suddenly the place got brighter. Most likely, the brightness came from the light reflecting off the wide smile now covering the enlisted man's face.
"Thanks, man," he said to the guy with the icy box.
"No, thank you," came the simple reply.
Usually, when we think of patriotism, we think of supreme sacrifice; of men and women struggling against all odds to save a town, a ship or a wounded soldier. We think of famous acts of heroism where many are saved by a few who are lost. We think of flags raised on the victorious battlefields of World War II or a single flag rising out of the dust and ashes on a bent flag pole on 9/11. Those of us who are old enough think of a little boy's salute as his father's horse-drawn coffin passed by on that awful day in November 1963. We remember the line in the sand drawn at the Alamo and those who stepped across it.
I said this was a story about patriotism, and it is. Not all acts of patriotism are bold. Sometimes acts of patriotism, acts showing love of country, are quiet and too often unnoticed. This time, we witnessed a simple act of patriotism which occurred between two men. They are patriots no less important than those who are more famous. Maybe our beverage man was a veteran himself; maybe he has a son or a daughter serving in the military now; maybe he is just an American. Now, he is my hero.
For whatever reason, he decided, without hesitation, that he was going to do something good; to perform a small act of kindness for another patriot. His act was not without sacrifice. It cost him the price of the drink and the tip for which he had worked hard. The cost was not important; the act of the heart was. It was a sight not to be forgotten soon.
The next time we celebrate a patriotic holiday and I see the "bombs burst in air," or the flags waving, or the bands playing. I will remember this scene. Because at that moment, the 90-plus mph fast balls stopped, the crowd disappeared. For one moment, the world made sense and the reality became clear to me that the most important part of our night was not the baseball game; it was what we had witnessed.
My only regret is that I was not quick enough to buy the drink myself and say to the young soldier, "Thank you, sir, for our freedom."
When the opportunity comes again, I will be ready.
Soon, we will observe Veterans Day - the day set aside to honor living veterans. It should be a day of more than just posting the flag in the front yard. Every one of us should find a veteran and say "thank you." Better yet, buy him or her a drink or a meal. They all deserve it.
And if you should happen to hear the veteran say, "You are the first person who has ever thanked me," just be proud of yourself. Then, you may find that the handshake has become a hug and the mist in your eyes has overflowed. That's just fine. Carry on, my friend, carry on. You are now a patriot, too.