by Tim Ramsey
Mark is enrolled in my evening college reading class. This is his first semester. He began much like any other freshman - excited, yet a little nervous about this new chapter in his life.
Mark sits at the front of the classroom and quietly absorbs everything I have to offer. He participates in class discussions and group activities. He completes every assignment superbly, revising and editing every paper to perfection. His work ethic is truly impressive.
Mark is 28 years old.
This amazing young man returned from the Middle East about a year ago. Battle scars from burns cover his face and his arms. Yet he has an inner strength to keep moving forward.
This proud Marine returned to his homeland and unfortunately found himself homeless without the proper support of a people who sent him overseas. Yet his strong determination to survive has pulled him over the hurdles in his path.
Mark got a job and moved up through the ranks to a managerial position. He bought a house and car. He married and had kids.
Now he has begun college. But he is no typical college freshman. He comes to class with a wealth of knowledge, with life experiences that most of his eighteen-year-old counterparts do not possess - and may never possess. He has seen the horrors of war abroad and the terrors of destitution and despair at home. He realizes that this new journey will lead to an even better existence.
He values his education.
Mark spoke with me after class. It was almost ten o'clock at night. I'm sure he was tired; he had worked all day and had just spent an hour and a half in my reading class. But it was the last class before Veterans Day, and I wanted to let him know that I was impressed with his dedication. I wanted to thank him for his service to this great country we live in. I apologized for keeping him from going home, but he assured me that he was not annoyed. He stayed behind for almost fifteen minutes and spoke openly with me about the trials he had been through.
This proud veteran shared his story, and I listened. He told me of how mad he had been at the world after returning from the front lines. He told me of how he had eventually turned his life around. It was his duty, he declared, to share his story with others and to help others returning to their own lives in the States.
He told me of how angry he becomes when he looks around his classes and sees other students not working, not participating, and not respecting their teachers. He cannot understand why these students place so little value in their educational experience whatsoever. He cannot believe that so many do not embrace the American right to even attend school, an American right he defended in a country thousands of miles away from this cozy little community college.
I glanced at the clock. Immediately, Mark apologized for keeping me from going home to my family. "No, no..." I insisted, "I should be the one apologizing for keeping you. I've just thoroughly enjoyed listening to your fascinating story. I am so grateful for all that you have done. Thank you."
Mark smiled. "You know," he said, "those are the two words every vet wants to hear. Those are the two words that can make you believe that what you have done and what you are doing actually makes a difference in the world. That's is all I need to keep going. That's what we all need to keep going. Thank you, Mr. Ramsey."
No, thank YOU, Mark.
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2014.