On one of these occasions, I was eating at Chipotle with two of my friends, and I didn't even think twice about getting up from eating with them to go pay for the man in line with an army uniform on. When he reached the cashier, I told the cashier that I was going to pay for his meal. He turned to me, mouth open, and asked me why. After paying, I told him that my friends and I were about to go to a football game and that without him dedicating his life to keeping our country safe and to protecting our freedom, we wouldn't be able to go the game. We wouldn't be able to live our lives the way we do without serious fear of our safety.
Noticing the wedding ring on his finger, I continued and told him that I wanted to pay for his meal as an extremely small "thank you" to his wife and family's sacrifice to the country as well. He looked at me with the biggest smile on his face as he said, "Well thank you for saying 'thank you'! I love my job because I get to protect Americans like you and your friends. It makes it all worth it. I really do love this country."
Finding his large smile contagious, I felt the biggest smile coming on as I said, "I love this country too," and with that, I never would have guessed what would happen next. He said, "Hang on just one sec, but let's move to the side to let the rest of the line pay for their dinners."
We moved just to the side of the cashier as he looked down at the American flag patch on the arm of his uniform. "I haven't ever done this, but I want to do this…" He took the patch off of the Velcro patch of his uniform and handed it to me. As tears started forming in my eyes, I looked at him without being able to form words. Smiling again, he asked, "Do you know why the flag is backward?" I managed to say "No," as he told me that the reason that the flag is back so that the stars are closer to the heart of the soldier.
He patted me on the shoulder and said that he would keep my friends and I close to his heart as he continued to serve our country, and left the restaurant before I could even say goodbye.
This interaction not only renewed my appreciation for the military, but it also taught me a completely new lesson about the impact we can have on others. This man has risked his life for people he has never met, and yet he still took the time to brighten my day.
What would that look like for us if we chose to live like this? If we devoted our whole lives to others and to brightening instead of darkening their lives?
I personally think we'd all be finding contagious smiles and realizing that, despite everything, we love our country too.