I feel inclined to tell a few stories this morning, about some men I know.
The first one of these is the father of two kids, both special-needs. Between their needs and surgeries, he's a million dollars in debt. To carry that debt he works two jobs. He's an officer in the US Navy reserves, which means he has to travel out of state for duty on a regular basis. His full-time job requires him to rise and leave by four AM some mornings every week, and keeps him at work until six or seven at night most nights. His boss is a miserable human being who can't be bothered to speak civilly to him, even though it's my friend's willingness to come in early that sets the boss up for whatever success he enjoys in the day. I hear he just took a pay cut.
I once told him I thought what he was doing for his kids was noble. He laughed, rather darkly, and went on to talk about something else. Last Christmas he sent me a card with his family's picture on it.
Another man I know grew up much as I did, racing fast cars through Appalachia. As a young man he joined the Army. He became a sergeant, and then got out; he and his wife had some kids and he went to work for a company. He tried to move up the ranks, but never got very far, ending up in middle-management. His wife decided she didn't like being home with the kids, so she went back to work as soon as she could; then she decided she didn't like the job, so she wanted to go back to school. He supported her through all that, and her failed business venture. One day she got angry with him over something, some fight, and left for a while. He later told me that he'd been dressing for work that morning, and happened to see his pistol laying on a shelf. He told me he thought, "If I shoot myself, I won't have to go to work today."
Fortunately he had an upbringing that steeled him against moments of despair. Things worked out with her and him. Still, I don't know if she ever knew, or understood that it was really only ever all for her. When it didn't look to him like it mattered to her, he'd rather have died than face his job even one more day.
One day he was at home, waiting for his wife to get off work, having almost given up hope of ever being worth anything to his family. An Army recruiting commercial came on television, and promised him all the good things those commercials do. He went right then to a recruiter, who assured him -- being as how he was a husband and father -- that the Army would take care to station him close to home so he could support his family and still be with them. He signed that very day. His first duty station was Korea.
He went on to serve in Somalia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, and Iraq. He had sixty-six kills in OIF 1. Along the way he was blown up by a mortar round, and had to be retrained for a support position. The Army picked one for him that required a lot of skill at reading and writing. When I met him -- in Iraq again, in his new role -- he was gritting his teeth and fighting to make it work. He finally did, due to nothing but hard work and dedication. I thought he would like Louis L'amour's Sackett novels, so I gave him one, and it was the first book he ever read all the way through. He went on to read all of them. He understood them and they spoke to him, he told me, because "These books are all about guys who are fighting for their family."
It happens he and I share a birthday. We could almost be brothers, except he has blue eyes.
Each of these men is a kind of tragic hero. They've suffered, greatly, in the service of those they love. I don't know how many people have taken the time to understand just how much their sacrifices have cost them.
I think I chose the right word when I told my one friend that he was noble. This kind of sacrifice in the service of the beloved is the mark of a man of the highest honor. It is the mark of true nobility.