So I am chatting with a man and ask if what I hear is true, that his son has joined the military.
"Yes," he says. "He's a Marine."
"Congratulations," I say. "You must be very proud."
We chat a bit longer, not much, and ready to say good-bye, when he says, "You know, you just said something very interesting."
"What's that?" I ask.
"About my son," he says. "You said, 'Congratulations, you must be very proud.' You did say that, didn't you?"
"Of course," I say.
"When most people ask about my son and I tell them he joined the Marines, that's not what they say."
"What do they say?" I ask.
"They say, 'Oh, I'm so sorry.'"
Silence. There is a wound in this man's heart. And it's large. Roughly the size of a walk-in closet.
What an odd lot we are.
If someone said a son or daughter had joined law enforcement, we wouldn't say, "I'm so sorry." We wouldn't offer sympathies to someone whose adult child was training to become a firefighter.
We have a volunteer military. Men and women choose to serve, deliberately and intentionally. That young man set his jaw and chose a path that took him through 13 grueling weeks of boot camp.
Through discipline, will and prowess, he developed strength and agility, learned to handle weapons, practiced marksmanship, mastered combat skills and passed The Crucible - a 54-hour exercise that tests physical and mental strength. He earned the right to be called a Marine.
And what was it I did today?
The father of the Marine is gracious. He cuts those offering their sympathies on his son's achievements a lot of slack.
"I think it's more of a reaction than a thought," he muses.
He's probably right. We all suffer from Blurt, that malady where the mouth works faster than the brain.
Perhaps what they mean is that they are sorry for the anguish the family may go through when their son is 10,000 miles from home, sorry that he will be in harm's way. Still, sympathy is an odd foot to put forward when someone has made a selfless choice requiring courage and fortitude.
Not long ago, I happened upon a sermon preached by a Jacob Cushing at Lexington, Mass., on April 20, 1778, commemorating the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington.
Cushing addressed a congregation at war. Toward the end of his remarks, he singled out the soldiers and said, "Cultivate, my friends, a martial spirit, strive to excel in the art of war, that you may be qualified to act the part of soldiers well; and under providence, be helpful in vanquishing and subduing the enemies of G-d and this people, and be numbered among those who shall be worthy to wear the laurels of victory and triumph."
A far cry from "I'm sorry." And spoken from a pulpit, no less.
Shame on us, no matter what our stance on the war, if we should withhold even an ounce of encouragement or a single prayer from the men and women working to secure liberty and freedom, and make safety an everyday expectation.
There is a common thread woven throughout every branch of the military. It is the thought, or the creed rather, that failure is not an option.
Saying I'm sorry should not be an option either.