He looked like a young hipster, with his hat cocked jauntily and his bling. His head was shaved close, but that isn’t unusual these days when anything goes with hair. His manner was polite and engaging, his smile innocent and childlike. We struck up a conversation as I served him his waffles and eggs. He was in town for training, waiting for deployment. I admitted that I was surprised; he didn’t seem the “military type”. He grinned, explaining that he was special ops. Better counseling when he returns, he elaborated. I stopped, took a breath. His face was open, his eyes warm but sad. I asked him why he was doing this. He showed me a new tattoo on his arm, an elaborate cross with a name in the center. When I asked if it was a loved one, he just smiled sadly and told me no, it was his own name. He wanted his life to have meaning, wanted it to count.
I was called to pick up food before he could notice the tears in my eyes. A few minutes later he left, only to return and sit in the waiting chairs against the windows with a guitar case. He slipped his instrument out gently, like an affectionate lover and began to caress it with tender fingers. Quietly he played as the customers ate. My coworkers and I stopped – being played for at Waffle House isn’t a common occurrence. He kept his head low, cradling the guitar and sending out a haunting, soft melody that caused my heart to contract. When he was done, he stood and looked over at me again. “I won’t forget you,” I mouthed silently. His lips twitched, he touched his hat in an old-fashioned gesture and left, jumping into the taxi with the other young men and women he’d come from the base with.
I’m remembering him this morning, feeling sad about the bitter harshness and cruelty of war. Feeling sad about the children who are hungry, the women who are abused and the general state of the world. It can be overwhelming. I stop, take a breath. Be peace, I remind myself.