By Jim Kuiken
Have you ever done (or not done) something that you later regret? Don’t worry, that was rhetorical…we all have, and we all do.
Unfortunately, sometimes those things that we do or don’t do have unintended consequences - and not just for ourselves. Last week, I did something that I deeply regret, because it affected a friend of mine (and Freedom’s).
It’s interesting that I was just talking to another friend, and they said, “I didn’t think you had regrets, because you live so much in the present!” It’s true, I do my best to not hold on to things from the past or present that I don’t have control over, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t regret things I did or didn’t do.
It arose from something that has happened to me a couple of times now, but deeply affected me both times (this time more than before). It had to do with a challenge to my integrity, as well as things I’ve done during my almost 45 years of service to this nation and its citizens (and legal residents). Additionally, it disparaged friends and colleagues who’ve spent a half-century of honest and outstanding service to this nation, and called into question their honesty and integrity as well. In my book, unforgivable.
This all started the day before Thanksgiving, and lasted up and into last week. I fully expected (and had planned for) that type of thing from opponents from other political parties during my U.S. Congressional campaign (2011 – 2012), but two things surprised me even there. The first was the downright dishonesty and viciousness of those attacks (which I squashed with proof of my service), but the second was that people from my own party did the same – i.e., one of my primary opponents (at least the other two ran honorable campaigns), and the neo-cons and others who tried to hijack the campaign, and when they couldn’t, turned around and attacked.
When it started again a couple of weeks ago, I pulled out a lot of the same documents I had used before (as well as looking up a few more) to counter those claims. But the damage was done, it deeply disturbed me, and caused me to rethink my commitment to not only my chosen path of telling stories of service (military, first responders, etc.), but my efforts as an Advocate (again for those who serve(d) our nation and its citizens), and working with all the Veteran service organizations – to even questioning my involvement with the non-profit we have been building for all military service members and veterans, first responders, and their families.
Needless to say, it shook me to my core, and d@mned near brought me back to that place where I was before I got Freedom. It shut me down, and almost made me just walk away from it all, again.
So, back to my regrets. Last week it was time to bring Freedom in to the Vienna Pet Spaw for his weekly bath. The Spaw is not just the only place I ever take Freedom (I tried and looked at others, but won’t go anywhere else), but they will wash, groom, or let you wash your own dog there – whatever works best for their clients. The owner / operator there is a good friend, and not only helps veterans with Service Dogs, but helps out with programs for animals in need, volunteers with Wreaths Across America, is a strong supporter of our military and veterans (coming from a military family), and is just a kind and supporting friend to clients – often opening early or staying late (or taking special requests) just to help them out.
Last week when we went in, Freedom got up into his tub and I sat in the chair nearby (they let me sit in there with him as he gets bathed so the SD and handler are not separated), but I was totally self-absorbed and wallowing in my own pain and disappointment, not at all my normal wise-cracking smart-@$$ self.
Had I not been so absorbed with my own issues, I would’ve picked up on the fact that the owner was also not their normal self, and could’ve used some support, and some of my normal humor – or just a friendly ear to listen.
We’d been friends since shortly after I started going there about 3 years ago, but we really became good friends after I went along with the family to Arlington National Cemetery (and later, to their home) when one of the owner’s brothers, Air Force SMSgt. Mark Rayment, was laid to rest there. We were there commemorating his long service to this Nation, as well as to be with friends and family as they grieved his loss and celebrated his life.
That appointment last week was on the day before the 2nd anniversary of his interment there in Arlington. I knew something was up, but I didn’t pull my head out of my own misery long enough to see what was going on with my friend. And that is my regret… I let a friend down.
In those darkest hours when it all seems too much to bear, is there a friend that needs your support more than you need to stew in your own feelings? As in most cases, yes, there was – and I’m so sorry.
I won’t make that mistake again.