I hope everybody had a very safe, relaxing and fun Fourth of July. This year was one of the most fun Fourths I’ve ever had, despite the fact it was about 95 degrees and about 200 percent humidity (at least it felt that way!!!). I took pictures at Marietta’s July Fourth parade and celebration and took a whopping 756 pictures!!! If we were playing baseball I just became the new HR champ, passing Atlanta Braves legend, Hank Aaron, who by the way should’ve had the stadium named after him, but that’s another story….
As I was rolling around taking pictures, I stopped at a table that had T-shirts, hats and books about Vietnam and started talking to the guys manning the table. One of them asked me a question I get asked at almost every July Fourth or Veterans Day parade, and it was if I am a veteran?
Now I get where they’re coming from, I’m in a wheelchair and could easily pass as a disabled veteran, wounded in the line of duty, serving my country. I try to always tell people I’m not a veteran, that I was born with spina bifida and am paralyzed below the waist. I try to make them feel comfortable around me, explain what the disability is and let them ask questions if they want.
I also explain that I am a big supporter of the U.S. military, and have a second and third cousin who’ve both served this country proud, in the first Gulf War and now in the war on terror. My third cousin was in Iraq or Afghanistan several months ago, and the Hummer he was riding in hit an IED that killed the driver. My third cousin is still dealing with some shrapnel issues, I think, and is the true definition of a veteran if there ever was one.
But while I’m not a war veteran, I think I fit the description of another kind of veteran, a veteran of the battle I call LIFE. What I mean is, I’ve battled adversity and overcome so much despite spina bifida, and I’ve accomplished so many wonderful things in my life, but there are some days like today when I get hit in the shoulder or punched in the gut and have to dust myself back off and hop right back on the horse.
Every day I feel like a veteran. Whenever I see an American flag or one of our service men or women, I feel a tremendous sense of pride and adrenaline to be a better American. Every morning when I wake up, I thank God for being able to see another day and look adversity in the face as if to say, “You want to challenge me today? Bring it on!!!”
One of the things that really humbles me and makes me get all warm and fuzzy inside is how many people come up to me, ask me how I’m doing and just want to talk. I almost feel like a veteran coming home from war from the response I get when I’m in public, around Marietta. While I was mingling around yesterday evening on the Square, taking pictures of the vendors and the concert, a woman saw me and grabbed my hand and started dancing with me. We tried to talk over the speakers, and she said she’d seen me earlier and shook my hand as she was walking in the parade. She asked me why I didn’t walk in it, and I mentioned I was taking pictures. She said, “Well next time just ask around and see if you can walk in the parade. That’s what I did!!” She even offered to let me walk with her the next time she’s in the parade!!! You know, some days can be a real pain in the butt, but when I think about the big picture and how incredibly blessed I am to work in a city where people actually want to talk to me instead of walking the other way, that means more to me than any Medal of Honor ever could!!!