Today is Veterans Day here in the United States, where we pause and thank our veterans and current military personnel for their service to their country. We all know someone who has served our country. I’m married to one. I met my husband while I was a freshman at UT Austin and he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. He then went on to serve in South Korea, where he spent time on the DMZ at the ripe old age of 20. He enlisted in part to take advantage of the G.I. Bill, but also because he believed it was the right thing to do. I honestly cannot fathom feeling called to serve my country, to protect the freedoms we take for granted every day. I do, however, know what life is like without those freedoms. I’ve lived overseas. Not just any country, mind you, where some things might be a bit unfamiliar. I lived in Saudi Arabia, the veritable antithesis of American life.
Living in Saudi Arabia had a profound effect on me. For over two years, I lived a life with no freedoms. My language was the wrong language. My skin was the wrong color. My gender was the wrong gender. My customs were the wrong customs. My visa was always in danger of being revoked, simply because I was a dependent from a western land. My home was a walled villa in the middle of an Arab town, where I was effectively living in a box. I had to learn — and use — a second language from day one. Being female had additional rules that had to be obeyed. I could go nowhere without an escort. Females had to walk in pairs, or be driven to their destination by a male protector. I dressed as dictated by local customs: fully covered from neck to foot, hair back and covered. And lest I had the wrong idea, it was made very clear to me that I had no rights. I had no right to speak my mind. No right to even look at men, much less speak without being spoken to. No right to attend local schools, no right to legal counsel. No right to practice my faith. No right to drive. No right to have a say in the laws which governed me. If I was arrested, for any reason, I had no right to assume I’d have a fair trial. Or even a trial at all.
No rights. No security. No freedom.
I had incredible experiences while I lived overseas. Lots of stories, many anecdotes. But I will never forget the fear that hovered in the background during my years in the Middle East. And I will never forget the overwhelming gratitude I felt when I stepped foot back in these United States, where I once again felt safe and protected. It literally brought tears to my eyes. Freedom is something you never take for granted once it has been taken for you. Many of our citizens may never give a second thought to what it costs to be free, except on a day like today, where we pause and give thanks for those who serve to protect us and the freedoms those before us have fought and died for. But they should. Even if it is only one day a year.
Because we have that freedom.