The Mormon Third Eye sees very few disappointments as dismal as incidents of forgotten gratitude (no desserts containing chocolate at a ward party comes in a distant second). Imagine my joy, then, when I randomly ran into two coincidental episodes of unusual, uncommon gratitude.
I recently attended an international academic conference, The star speaker on one panel was Bilahari Kausikan, Permanent Secy. to Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I had heard rumors that Mr. Kausikan was a loose cannon in the relatively boring world of polite diplomatic ping-pong dialogue, but I still was not prepared for his frank thanks. A shifty, mischievous gleam lit up his eyes as he began his unconventional expression of gratitude. “We are not stupid in Singapore,” he started out somewhat directly, “We know that we are a small country that needs protection to develop. I know you don't hear this much, but you're going to hear it from me- I want to thank America for becoming involved in Vietnam and tying up the communists for so many years in South Vietnam. Because of your engagement in Vietnam, it created a safe environment for Singapore and gave us time to develop economically to the point that we could stand on our own with our own unique style of neutrality. Thank you. Really. We love America.”
A few months later I was on a flight from Baltimore to Atlanta. In front of me sat three YSA-age kids- one large square young man was wearing fatigues; the other couple were dressed in casual beach wear. My status as the concerned father of two YSA youth authorized me to surreptitiously monitor their playful banter. I learned that GI Joe-man had just finished home leave and was on his way back to join his unit in Afghanistan. The other couple were on their way to a vacation in Hawaii. The Hawaii couple asked about his work in Afghanistan, and GI Joe asked them about their plans on the Islands. Here is an excerpt:
Hawaii: (both using their best valley talk vocabulary and intonation) Like where do you serve in Afghanistan?
GI Joe: (the deep sharp voice that has had to bark out the command 'stop or I'll shoot' too many times) I don't think I can tell you that. Operational security. My unit does perimeter security for temporary bases near the forward area. We get our share of excitement...
Hawaii: Wow! That's like really intense! So, like, we have a friend named Ryan- he is also serving in Afghanistan I think. Do you like know him?
[cut to 10 more minutes of incredibly small talk via the 'do you know' game, where it is determined that GI Joe actually knows Ryan]
GI Joe: So... are you going on vacation? What are you doing in Hawaii?
Hawaii: We are like, soooo excited, We only have a week, but we've like found like a cheap hotel, so we are like, going to, like, go surfing, swimming, snorkeling, and like, drink a lot fruity drinks packed with alcohol... (ok... so I'm poorly summarizing the last phrase... they quickly rattled off goofy names for several different alcoholic beverages that were absolutely foreign to me...)
As we walked off the plane in Atlanta, I replayed several times in my head the very unofficial transcript of their discussion. I was troubled by a critical missing part of their dialogue, and resolved to fix it. After the Hawaii couple skipped off to their next gate, I caught up with GI Joe:
“Did I hear that you were returning to Afghanistan? “
“Yes.” he replied with a quiet, noble sharpness.
I extended my hand, looked him straight in the eyes, and said quickly, “thank you.”
“My pleasure,” he responded with a firm grip, and we both went on our way.