So, This Happened Today

I love Vietnamese food when it’s cooked well and if I’m very hungry after a rehearsal I like to visit Pho 79, a popular place on what they call “Eat Street” in Minneapolis. Today I was famished on the heels of preparing the program for a kids show we’ll play this week. You know how it is when you imagine a dish you’ve had many times before and organic chemistry has its way with your body producing saliva at inopportune moments. So, yeah… like that. Mercifully, the rehearsal ended early and I got to the restaurant in time to keep from becoming an  internet statistic. Yes, I really was that hungry.

Then things grab your attention that make you forget thinking about yourself. As I was being seated by the hostess I caught sight of a table in the corner occupied by four people, three of whom were in Army fatigues. Generally, I make it a habit to face the door. Had I not, I would not have really taken notice of them.

Now, look… let me be as clear as I can. I love my military, active-duty and veteran alike. I couldn’t care less whether they are front-line warriors or desk jockeys. Anybody who signs up to serve has my profound respect. If for no other reason, going through basic training alone is enough to command my gratitude since I didn’t serve. I’m not ashamed that I didn’t serve but I wish I could have. I’m pretty sure Uncle Sam would have had no interest in me, sad to say. I had the proverbial “bad knees” and vision that would have counted me out. I was fighting the Battle of the Arban Book for Trumpet.

The point is that I’m always open to ways to say “thank you”. When I’m not playing Taps for a solemn occasion I enjoy anonymously paying for meals for my boys and girls who wear a uniform for you and me. I like doing the same for cops, by the way, many of whom are also ex-military. What can I say? I have a thing for people who run in the direction of danger while the rest of us run in the opposite direction. I appreciate the efforts of those who stand awake while I sleep and eat MRE’s while I complain about my range-fed being just a bit too rare.

I looked for a waitress and asked if she was the one waiting on that table and she nodded yes. Have they paid yet? After a quick look through her bills she let me know they hadn’t, as she figured out where I was going with this line of questioning. “You pay for them?”

Yes, just put it on my bill. “Please don’t tell them who paid.”

With a smile she took care of it.

Typically, this is not the kind of thing I talk about much less write to the world about it but it was what happened next that is what this is really all about.

As the group from the table were leaving the waitress came to me and said “They want you to have this” and extended her hand. This was in it.

These are known as “challenge coins”. They are handed out to promote comaraderie and spirit de corp within the ranks of the military. They’re not as “serious” as being awarded a medal for valor or some such official act while on active duty but they do recognize a place served or, as in this case, what function you serve while in the military. They can represent a lot of things. One side is the brilliant, gold representation of our national symbol and the other says “Infantry”. Correct… those people that hold the weapons they need to protect a position or obtain a new one in battle. That’s more than the 6 weeks of training until they can’t do anymore… yet, they do it.

I spent the meal enjoying the beautiful detail of the coin and eschewed the brief moments of envy of I had contemplating the commitment of a military member. I don’t envy their frustrations with military bureaucracy not to mention the silent dignity they display while their hearts break as Taps is played for a fallen comrade.

What I did was small. The coin I was given is larger than the lie my hand tells when I hold it.


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