14: It’s Not about Me

14: It’s Not about Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

It’s Not about Me

What we say is important… for in most cases the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

~Jim Beggs

I shifted my weight in the hard chair, picked at my cuticles, and berated myself. What in the world have I gotten myself into? I’m clueless about interacting with reporters. How frumpy am I going to look? I smoothed my navy-blue skirt. Will my brain freeze in the middle of the interview? Even worse, am I going to disappoint everyone?

Next to me in the television channel’s green room, chewing her lip, sat another mom like me whose son also served in the military. As we waited to be called for the interview, she clenched her white-knuckled hands in her lap.

She’s nervous, too, I thought.

As our chapter’s Media Committee Chairwoman, I felt responsible for my fellow Blue Star Mother. What can I say, I wondered, to give her courage? I gently squeezed her hands. “We’re going to do well.”

She attempted a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

I waved toward the studio. “This will be easy compared to what our sons are asked to do.”

She flexed her fingers. “That’s true.”

This interview isn’t about me, I thought.

My nervousness disappeared, and I breathed easier as I focused on how to best articulate our message.

Thirty minutes later, I felt lighthearted as the other mom and I walked toward our cars. “We did it!” she said.

I punched the sky with both fists. “Yes!”

With big smiles, we hugged each other goodbye.

When I got home, I called my friend Georgia, a professional speaker. “I’m surprised I didn’t get tongue-tied during the interview,” I said. “As a teenager, I was painfully shy.”

“Really?”

“Thankfully, raising an outgoing son made me less shy. Even so, whenever I do any public speaking, I feel like I trip over my words. But today, I did okay. In fact, I had fun!”

“So, what’s changed?” she said.

“While I was encouraging the other Blue Star Mother right before our interview, it felt so freeing to realize it wasn’t about me. It’s about something bigger. I’m like… an ambassador for the other moms. It’s important to us to get out our support-the-troops message.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “And when I think about the sacrifices the troops have made on our behalf, I want to give something good back to them.”

That revelation — “It’s not about me” — served me well while working with the media and also when I volunteered, along with other moms, to share our message through public speaking. I put together a presentation I titled “The History, Happenings, and Hope of Blue Star Mothers.” To help control my nervousness, I memorized my opening and closing, and practiced my speech. I collected props to help me remember my points.

I arrived early to meet people before my first speaking opportunity on behalf of our chapter. I chatted with a man whose back curved with age yet whose eyes twinkled under the brim of his WWII Veteran cap. Another man, with Vietnam Veteran patches on his motorcycle jacket, told me about the Patriot Guard Riders, who stand guard at a fallen hero’s funeral. Tears pooled in a young woman’s eyes when she told me her brother was deployed.

As the host introduced me, I took a deep breath to loosen the tightness in my chest. It’s not about me, I thought. Focus on others.

I made eye contact with several individuals seated in different parts of the audience before I opened my speech with a snippet of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

I held up the Blue Star Mothers banner and gave a brief overview of our organization’s history. I felt my shoulders relax as I explained that we — the moms of active military and veterans — support our nation’s troops and vets, along with their families and each other.

I then listed a few of our chapter’s many activities. I pointed to a priority-mail box brimming with items like granola bars, toothbrushes, and DVDs. “With the help of a generous community, each year we ship thousands of care packages. We welcome home returning troops at the airport and armories.” I ran my hand over a lap quilt and described the groups of women who sew them for the wounded service members who are recuperating stateside and at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. I read snippets of thank-you notes we’d received from men and women in uniform, including one from a soldier who’d written:

Thank you for your continued support. Without the love and well wishes, we would be lost…

I moved to my third point. “We hope you’ll consider different activities we’re involved in and join us, as you can, in support of our troops.”

I wrapped up with JFK’s more well-known quote: “President Kennedy said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.’ As a veteran himself, I believe he would be proud of our troops who have answered the echo of his call with their service to our country. Our troops give so much — and ask for so little,” I paused. “And so, my fellow Americans, today ask not what our troops can do for you, but what you can do for our troops.”

A few days later, Georgia called and asked how I did with my new speech.

“I didn’t feel like I stumbled. This time, I spoke with passion. I felt supercharged. What’s interesting is that I never made an appeal for money, but people in the audience gave me some to help with care packages.”

I gave the same presentation many times at schools, churches, corporations, nonprofit-group meetings, and community events.

Several years later, I spoke at an Independence Day event. It’s not about me, I thought as I waited offstage for the mistress of ceremonies to introduce me. I pictured my son, Ty, and the other men and women in uniform I’d met who could not be present.

I also imagined a nameless young soldier serving in the Middle East. After returning from a mission, would she remove a heavy helmet and wipe sweat and dust from her face? Did she long to put in earphones and let music take her home, if only for the span of a song? Would she be surprised when she received one of our care packages at mail call? Would frown marks between her eyebrows smooth a little? Would the box, and the love it represented, bring a smile to an otherwise somber face?

I took a deep breath as I stepped up to the microphone. I felt the power of purpose, of a worthy cause, of something bigger than myself as I began speaking: “In his inaugural address, President Kennedy issued a challenge that still applies today….”

~Linda Jewell

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