I noticed a slightly older guy working the desk several months ago. It wasn’t a good job, really, and I wondered why he was there. He looked like he’d spent his life body building and I surmised it might be a job that fit his ego. The tattoos that covered his arms made me wonder where life had taken him. I didn’t talk to him, though: I didn’t need to. There was something in his bearing that didn’t match my perception that maybe he was a guy who just hadn’t grown up, but I didn’t stop to think it through. I moved on to the next task, the next person, the next problem.

2017 photos - 1259 of 1317My son also frequented the business and he talked to the man. He heard his story, a story nothing like the one I’d made up in my mind. A dedicated military man, he’s been on a lot of missions in dangerous places. In fact, he was involved in rescuing some missionaries years ago. He pursued dangerous people through dangerous jungles. He led a group of men who depended on him. He saw war and death up close. He succeeded at his missions and came home to America.

What he’d experienced haunted him and PTSD stalked him as he did his best to settle into “normal”. He has a wife and a child and is determined to grow a healthy family. Still, the discrepancy between his past and his present is large: he chose this job because he could. He wants to forget the trauma and help people. And he does.

The next time I saw him behind the desk, he didn’t look like a guy who hadn’t grown up. He looked like a hero. And he is. He is quietly paying a price for us, the people who live in a semblance of safety because of sacrifices he and others like him made and make. I haven’t asked him, but I can imagine that the hardest things he’s done may not be the heroics on foreign soil but facing the prejudice of people he serves as he sits behind that desk, people like me who have preconceived ideas and misconceptions.

It’s a lesson I seem to have to learn and relearn: things are not always how they seem and people are not always who they appear to be. I’ve once more decided to simply treat everyone like the hero they may very well be. If I’m wrong, at least I’m a good kind of wrong.