This was back when American Sniper came out. I have a bunch of reservations about that movie, which you can read here. Regardless, I was sitting in the theatre, Cinerama, left of center, toward the front, where I like to be when I go to films alone. To my right was a boy in his twenties and his companion, a woman who looked to be in her early eighties. As the end credits played, I could hear them speaking to each other.
"What'd you think?" The boy.
"It was good."
"Yeah. I couldn't help but tearing up a few times."
He elaborated. "I couldn't help thinking about him, the fact that he was actually over there, and he went back over there… it just kinda blew me away how many times he went over there and came back. Made it back."
In a quiet, scraggly voice, the elderly woman said, "yeah, you know, it really was like that, with the kids carrying the bombs. You had to be careful, 'cause often they would train children to do that. Sometimes we just didn't know, and we had to make decisions like that."
I had misheard the young man. He wasn't saying he, in the above sentence. He was saying you. How many times you went over there, and made it back.
"Well," he replied, "I just didn't realize how close I was to losing you. I was too busy thinking about dad trying to get me to eat spinach for six hours!"
They stood slowly. He waited for her to get situated, gave her time to rise at her own pace. After they were both standing I approached them. She was a diminutive, decrepit shadow of a woman whose presence you might not even notice out in the world. But she was a powerhouse, had suffered, lived large, known the tortures of conscience, been placed in situations and sacrificed to a degree she didn't know possible when she started out. She was at the center of it all, once, and painfully. I don't often say "thank you for serving," but I needed to now.
"Hey," I said, almost whispering in the great big dark room. "Could I shake your hand? I'm sorry to interrupt, I couldn't help but overhear. Thank you for serving."
"Oh. Thank you," she said, in her aged voice.
"It means a lot," I said. "Have a good day, you guys."
They walked out together, slowly.
A vet in his early sixties came aboard my bus a short while later. He mentioned a toe injury he's had since Vietnam. He'd finally gotten some surgery for it, and was feeling better. The movie theatre incident was still prominent in my mind, and I said it again:
"Thank you for serving."
He lit up. He thanked me. Then he said,
"You're the sixth person to say that since 1979!"