Despite all of our differences in a deeply divided nation, there are heroes of all shapes and sizes, male and female, all faiths and creeds, driven by an overwhelming sense of courage and humility to protect what generations before have delivered for us thanklessly.

By Jack York

One of the many quirky It’s Never Too Late (iN2L) traditions is light-hearted dinners – dinners with providers, vendors, research partners, etc. For 17 years with so many people we’ve deliriously blurred the lines of being an iN2L customer and being a personal friend. It’s one of the joys of the journey.

Through these dinners lighthearted banter is shared, musings about the world of senior living, perhaps gentle forays into politics, conversations about trips being planned, stories shared as wine flows. Inevitably conversations move onto our kids, I know people get tired of me talking about my son JP trying to change the world in New Orleans, my son Nathan with his shiny new degree from American University, or the latest YouTube clip of my daughter Perrin singing. But last night a story, a mother gently reflecting about her son, literally stopped me in my tracks, I can’t stop thinking about it – as a son, as a father, as an American.

Shelley Wisnowski is a magical, humble friend of mine, a comrade in arms since the inception of iN2L in 1999. She runs the sales world for Select Rehab, an innovative therapy provider serving multiple senior living communities all over the country. Shelley helped push the needle of iN2L into therapy and has introduced us to dozens of our customers. All she has ever asked is a free cup of coffee in return. She is a humble Ohio woman who puts up with my oft-repeated jokes and stories.

Last night, however, Shelly shook me and a handful of other folks at dinner to the core. As we fussed and fretted over which Cabernet to consume, Shelley innocently started talking about her son Chad. While I was debating over the appropriate vintage to order, her son, somewhere in the middle of a training base in Alabama, is simply trying to survive, to get through the next hour of his life. He is in training to become a Black Hawk helicopter pilot – the elite of the elite. It’s not just about figuring out how to fly the craft, it’s about how to survive if you get shot down or if you become enemy fodder.

We were riveted, listening to a mother torn between her maternal instinct of protecting her oldest in harm’s way, balanced against an equally fierce pride that her son is choosing to serve rather than be served. All on his own, not through any country or parental pressure. A young man who simply, in Shelley’s words, puts his country ahead of himself. It’s not an armed forces recruiting slogan, it’s the belief that shapes his essence. This conversation only took place several hours ago, but deep into the night I was thinking of Chad climbing through weeds and marshes, surrounded by nothing but open sky, insects, and other soldiers attempting to “capture” him as part of the exercises. Shelly talked about his training, being thrown underwater in a helicopter and having to get himself out of the vehicle while losing equilibrium and all sense of balance eight feet underwater. I know, without a doubt, I could not do that. Not at the 57 years of age I am now, not when I was in my early 20’s.

How many Chads do we all know? How many Chads are buried in Arlington so that we, in 2016, can freely burn a flag or openly complain about political candidates we disagree with? How many Chads are there who don’t consider themselves heroes, who just think they have a duty and a calling bigger than themselves, bigger than any one person. Chad, I don’t know you (yet) but as I hear your mother tear up with pride as she talks about you, I think about my own father, building airstrips in Burma, India, in 1942 with hundreds of men under his command in WW2. Thanks, Chad. Thanks, Dad.

This is written a week after Veteran’s Day – a holiday I shamefully didn’t even think twice about last week. But I’m sitting in an airport in New Jersey, swelling with pride that despite all of our differences in a deeply divided nation, there are Chads of all shapes and sizes, male and female, all faiths and creeds, driven by an overwhelming sense of courage and humility to protect what generations before have delivered for us thanklessly.

One call to action for anyone reading this. Send an email to Shelley at [email protected], Chad will have been cut off from all outside communication with his family and the world for weeks. Have the subject line be “Thanks Chad.” Shelley will not see Chad, nor have any contact with him, until the week after Thanksgiving. How cool if when she would see him she can give him hundreds of emails from people he’ll never know? People thanking him for selflessness, for courage, for integrity. Thank him on behalf of your father, on behalf of your freedom, on behalf of your own grandchildren. I just sent him one on behalf of my dad, Capt. James York.

Thank you, Shelley, for the man that you and Jim have raised. I’ll keep buying you coffee. Maybe next time I’ll give you a salute with your creamer.