When my older brother returned from the war in Vietnam, he was treated cruelly by some people, just like other returning veterans of that particular war were treated. It was a dark time in our history, with many people essentially taking out their frustrations about the war on the returning soldiers, most of whom didn’t want to be there in the first place. Then later, after he was discharged from the Army and let his hair grow, rode a Harley chopper, and generally looked the part of a rebel, he was viewed by some as one to be avoided. His stature probably contributed — he was a big guy and towered over most people. Plus, he could look menacing with little effort.
What wasn’t obvious to people looking at him from the outside was what a huge heart he had, how quick he was to help out, what a staunch defender he was of those who were downtrodden in any way, how much he was loved and respected by those who took the time to really know him, and what a capacity he had to love.
I was born several years after my parents thought they were done having children, so there was a nine-year gap between this brother and me. Out of my siblings, he was the one who fussed over me, who watched carefully over me, who was by my side in many of my childhood pictures. (Which is not to say that he never teased me — he managed plenty of that!) One of my most vivid memories was my mother jumping from the not-quite-stopped car to run and embrace him when he returned from the war.
Can we always tell what a person is like by their outward appearance? I’m a perfect example of the fact that we can’t. I think I’m a very nice person, but my neutral face looks pretty grumpy. I know I need to smile more, but I also know we all need to look beyond what we can see. Perhaps there’s a friend to be made in the most unlikely of places.
My brother lost a quick battle with cancer recently, which is why I’ve been so reflective about these memories lately. In recent years when he wore his Vietnam Veteran hat out in public, people would frequently thank him for his service. When children would do it, he would get completely choked up. Four little words uttered by a young one — “Thank you for your service” — made up for some of the hurt he felt when he first returned.
Each of us is unique and worthy of respect. Even my brother, whether you could see it or not. May we all be more like those children who touched his heart. Find the good in others. Respect them as fellow humans. And above all, be kind.