Empty Chairs

20140718_161909_resized20140718_155739_resized20140718_155909_resizedLate this afternoon I arrived in O’Neill, Nebraska. It was a 250 mile ride from my starting point this morning. Needless to say I was ready to pull into the Holiday in Express, shut down the engine and plant the kickstand on the blacktop. After doing theses 3 ride concluding activities, I took off my helmet and walked into the “Express.” I walked up to the front desk hoping that the reason that the hotel is called the “Holiday Inn Express” is because they would have me quickly checked in and on my way to a cold room and a hot shower. The “check in went ok, not exactly “express,” which gave me time at the front desk to glance at a flyer. The flyer was announcing it was “Summer Fest” and listed the weekend events. Topping the list was the event for today, Friday the 18th. Scheduled to run from 9am-8pm was “Remembering Our Fallen.” It was sponsored by American Legion Post #93, here in O’Neill.  “Express check in gave way to hasty departure” and my previous dreams of a cold room and a hot shower faded away. I found myself back in the sun, helmet on and starting up the bike. I rode through this small American farm town and  found the National Guard Armory, home for the display. After parking the bike I entered the small unassuming brick building. I turned right and entered what looked like a room that was part gymnasium and part meeting hall. The “Remembering The Fallen”  display was against the wall on the other side of the room. Seated at a small table was a member of the “American Legion Riders.”  An equivalent group of  riders to Post #170, that honored me with an escort when I began my ride 2,500 miles ago. My first reaction was that the display was nothing more than a collection of posters with photographs. The room was empty except for 2 other people in addition to the Legion Rider.  I walked over to the posters with the intention of giving the photographs the courtesy of a walking review and I would then make my exit. I guess as the result of my adverting presentation background, I did’t think that the display  held much promise.  First impressions can often be misleading…and in this case, my initial thoughts said more about me than the content,  that was  silently looking back at me. I began to look at each photograph of a soldier’s face that had died in Iraq or Afghanistan. Below each picture was the name, age , date of death and actual combat event that took this one life. “One life” at a time lost to family and friends. “One Life” ended in a violent act of war. “One Life” given so that all of us, ‘The remaining lives,” can continue in freedom and independence. “One Life” taken…and “One Life,” our life, given to us. 

After reading about each of these fallen, I walked over to the American Legion Rider seated at the table. He asked ” so what brings you here today?” I began to talk about my 10,000 mile ride, like I have so many times before, when I was suddenly overcome with emotion. Choking back the tears, I never finished my sentence.  I simply said goodbye and turned to leave. The emotions that caused my tears were for all of the “One Life” losses in battle…and for all the empty chairs. No one looking, No one reading. But the empty chairs are not only in that room. One of those  empty chairs  represent me. Where have I been all these years when so many seriously wounded vets need my help? Where have I been looking that I never saw the need to help during  all the terrible post 9/11 years of war. How long have I been an empty chair in spite of over a decade of the 24 hour news cycle.  So I continue to ride to honor  each of the lives given. I ride to find a way to help each of the lives physically and emotionally broken in service to their country. Each mile is ridden with a hope that another chair will be filled with a donation to build a home for our most seriously wounded. I ride out of the fear of  waking up one morning and once again resuming my life as an “Empty Chair.”

Comments

  1. TED STEVENS says:

    My eyes fill with tears as I read your account of the end of the day. How many times have I EXPRESSED past the thought of that ONE LIFE.Our soldiers deserve more than they are given. Thank you Rich for your Perseverance and commitment,for allow this man to be reminded what has been given by so many. ONE LIFE

  2. Steve Cerami says:

    Hi Rich,

    You are no EMPTY CHAIR! There just has been an Empty Chair waiting for the right time and right person to fill it! And fill it YOU HAVE MY FRIEND!!

    What a beautiful written piece. Thanks for sharing your travels.

    Steve

  3. Hi Rich,

    Your words are so thoughtful and reflective. Thank you for sharing yourself and your experience with us. I feel like you have taken each one of us on this journey with you.

    Deb

  4. Tom Olney says:

    Richard,

    For the fallen the chairs are not empty. They represent the people who live a free and full life because the few in this Great Country are willing to give it all to preserve what we have. The fallen should be remembered, and we all can and should do more. Let’s pause throughout our daily lives when we experience the joy of freedom to say thanks. Gods speed and safe travels my friend.

  5. bill howard says:

    When we that have been watching – encouraging – and praying for your ‘Long Road Home’ read your accounts from America as you find it, you bless us by taking us with you. Saying “Thank you” seems to be so trite. You have given so much to us all Richard, may God Bless you as you continue blessing others. I am looking forward to seeing you on your return trip through southern Ohio.

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