Calvin stretched his good leg and moved slightly in the tight airline seat. It wouldn’t be much longer now. The seat belt lights were on and he could feel the descent of the plane. He smiled slightly at the thought of his wife and two year old daughter who would be meeting him.
Calvin glanced down where his right leg used to be and was still perplexed about feeling pain where there was no longer a body part. He knew he had a long road ahead but after what he had been through … Calvin shrugged slightly.
He saw them as soon as he walked through the door. Leaning heavily on his crutch, Calvin’s jaw tightened. The flight attendant next to him put his hand on Calvin’s arm.
“Sorry man. You know how unpopular this war is … and the protests are everywhere. After all free speech is what we are about in America.”
At Calvin’s silence, the flight attendant moved forward and escorted him down the ramp. He looked for his wife but a huge poster with the words, “BABY KILLER”, written in large block letters, blocked his sight line.
It was barely a whisper. His wife stood there holding Jasmine with tears running down her cheeks. Dressed in pink with smooth, chocolate skin; Jasmine’s chubby hands reached for Calvin.
“Welcome home sweetheart. We missed you so much.”
The military flight had spilled forth soldiers released at last from the horrors of Vietnam and returned to the land of freedom. Loved ones greeted them mixed in with protesters and signs and hatred. Calvin was just one among many.
The shouts were loud as Calvin and his little family made their way through the airport. Sarah helped her husband into the car and strapped Jasmine in her car seat.
That night as his wife slept, Calvin went in to his daughter’s bedroom and for hours watched her peaceful sleep. He hobbled through the slightly worn out home with deep gratitude. At last he slept.
On the other side of the city in the dark of the night, a shattering sound split the quiet. The lights and sirens responding woke neighbors for blocks around as emergency vehicles pulled up.
The first officer through the apartment door saw him sitting on a shabby chair with his right hand over the side. A handgun had dropped to the floor. A gaping wound on the right side of his head told the story of his last moment. His military uniform and a poster on the floor splattered with blood told the rest.
We can say whatever we choose. That’s free speech.
But our speech never comes without a cost …
Let’s speak gently.