Live Well (6/24/13)

A university professor tells of being invited to speak at a military base in December and meeting an unforgettable soldier named Ralph. Ralph had been sent to meet him at the airport, and after they had introduced themselves, they headed toward the baggage claim. As they walked down the concourse, Ralph kept disappearing. Once to help an older woman whose suitcase had fallen open. Once to lift two toddlers up to where they could see Santa Claus. And again to give directions to someone who was lost. Each time he came back with a big smile on his face.

“Where did you learn to do that?” The professor asked.

“Do what?” Ralph said.

“To be so helpful and considerate to others.”

“Oh,” Ralph said, “during the war, I guess.”

Then he told the professor about his tour of duty in Vietnam, about how it was his job to clear minefields, and how he watched his friends blow up before his eyes, one after another. “I learned to live between steps,” he said. “I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I learned to get everything I could out of the moment between when I picked up my foot and when I put it down again. Every step I took was a whole new world, and I guess I’ve just been that way ever since.”

The measure of our lives is not determined by how long we live, but by how well we live the life we are given.