I talk with strangers.
I think it is genetic. My Mum does it too. When I was younger, I felt embarrassed by Mum’s conversations with people we didn’t even know.
Not anymore, though; now I find it brings me happiness…
…and reminds me of how many good people are in the world.
A few weeks ago, on my morning walk by Dawson’s Creek, I saw a woman, bent over snipping a creek side swathe of bamboo with her back to me. It struck me as a thankless task, the bamboo shoots seemed to be growing visibly even as she was attempting to remove their shafts and my middle-aged back ached just looking at how long this would take to conquer.
I walked by but on my return loop, the woman was stretching her long, lean body, facing me and I stopped to talk with her.
The bamboo is a pest by the creek and the local Council has decided it needs to go. Their plan had been simple: poison and a slasher.
But as all the locals could see, the plan was ill conceived. The bamboo was returning and so, this woman had decided that she would add her energy to the efforts.
It was idle chatter about the creek…
…dealing with the local council. the relentless rains Queensland has experienced over the last few years and the heat of the morning.
And then the conversation took a different course.
The woman pointed to a house across the street, “That is my home, there.”
The bamboo was on a nearby neighbour’s creek fronting verge and my head grew confused. Why was she putting in all this effort on land that was not even her’s to maintain?
“I have owned that house for 20 years but until the last six months, I have never lived there. I worked interstate, but this year I retired and found my way back to this home.”
Her answer begged my next question: “What did you do for a living?”
“I was a member of the Australian Defence Force for 34 years.”
34 years of service is a big number in anyone’s language and after 16 years of working with ADF members, I knew that her career had been built on many sacrifices. The whole team at Churchill makes sure that we stop in any conversation to honour those sacrifices: “Thank you for your service.”
As the words came out of my mouth and settled on her, I watched this woman stand taller and this look of welcome surprise come across her face as she replied, “Thank you so much for those words.”
She went on.
“When I signed onto life in the defence, it was a choice I was making that focused on service, serving our country. I never expected a thank you, but when it’s said, it means a lot.
“Do you know over the years, I always did my best to remember, no-one asked me to serve. I pledged to serve. I wasn’t owed anything by anyone for my service. It was my choice. If occasionally resentment or a sense of entitlement crept into my thinking, I would remind myself that this was an act of service on my behalf and that I didn’t do it for thanks or reward.
I gave my service as a gift 34 years.”
Her words sank in. Her face was peaceful, and there was such dignity in her stance and in her words.
Her words taught me something about what it means to serve – that it is not about words, it is about a personal commitment to being of service.
She reminded me that true service is not given conditionally, demanding of anything but when we observe true service, as a community, it is so admirable that we want to honour that service absolutely.
As I walked home I rolled our conversation over and over in my head.
It is no surprise really, that this woman who has built a life of service to the country is bent over, creek side, still being of service to her community – promoting the well-being of this little scrap of land.
Once home, I asked Google a question: What oath do Australian defence members take?
And there it was, I swear that I will well and truly serve …
Today, it is Remembrance Day.
Today, we remember all those who have well and truly served.
There is no time limit on that service.
No time limit for remembering and honouring that service.
As we all come across current members of the Australian Defence Force and veterans, they may be strangers to you, but their service begs you to have this one simple conversation with them:
“Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifices.”
There will be no better time.
Lest we forget.