When I got back to the hotel after work tonight I pulled in next to a large black pick up truck only a moment after it had parked. I was fumbling around with my ID and the hotel room key-card and other junk when I glanced up to see a young lady come around to the passenger side door of the truck next to where I was parked. The passenger door opened and a young man turned himself to sit sideways as the young lady lifted a wheel chair from the bed of the truck and began to set it up. It was then I noticed the young man was missing his right leg from below his knee. There was an ace bandage wrapping it from below the stump to mid thigh. He was wearing shorts and his remaining leg was a contrast to the missing one.
I suppose this was a moment when a better man might have thought of something to do - perhaps offered to help (though they seemed to be getting along fine) - or even said something appropriate. Instead I sat in my van for another minute while they worked together to situate the young man. Then I stepped out of my car and walked quietly to the building. It wasn't until I got to the door of the hotel that I realized I had left my bag in the car. I went up to the room instead of going back.
I came out later to make an attempt at capturing a picture of the Center for the Intrepid, one of the Army's amputee care centers. (We are staying in a hotel across the street from it.) The healers there work some amazing miracles, and I felt a need to participate in that process somehow this evening, if only remotely.
I've spent almost two decades in the Army Medical Service Corps, and sometimes I wish I could do more than I do. By which I mean, something direct for our patients. But I suppose I'm not that type of person, and it wasn't what I was meant to do. We have to own our strengths and weaknesses at some point in our lives, and come to terms with them.
As I crossed the road after taking various shots of the building and approached the hotel, I saw off by the side entrance of the hotel this wheel chair, standing alone.
I don't know if my picture transmits what it made me feel in that moment. Alone.
I considered my more than twenty years of service and the fact that I have never been called to serve over seas, even though our country has been at war almost continuously since I first enlisted. It was only months after I finished my basic training that we invaded Panama, and only months after I finished my AIT that we repelled Saddam from Kuwait.
I looked at that wheelchair tonight, considered the building I had been photographing, considered the young man and the young woman with him, and could only think, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."