When I was in the fourth grade, I got hit by a car as I was going back to my grandmother’s after playing in a park two blocks away from her house.
I didn’t see the car coming fast over the hill. The driver, a high school student in his mother’s sedan, was a baseball player. He was on his way to an American Legion ball game, and he was in a hurry.
He didn’t see the little girl crossing the street.
The impact threw me up in the air and knocked my glasses off my face. I landed 20 feet down the hill, my T-shirt peeled away from my back, a layer of skin scrubbed away.
There were a lot of people standing over me. I remember a woman saying — she may have been screaming — “I’m a nurse; we need an ambulance.”
I didn’t want to get in an ambulance, so I got up, somehow, and walked the two blocks to my grandmother’s house.
My mother came. The police came. The boy who hit me came. Everyone was scared.
I went to the hospital anyway, got bandaged up, and eventually healed, except for an indention in my right hip. It’s still there. You’d never notice it.
The boy who hit me was young, 17 years old. Nobody pressed any charges; it was an accident. That boy would be in his 50s now, and I wonder if he ever had children. I wonder if he ever told them what happened. I know he carries with him the horror of hitting a little girl, and even though she turned out fine, that’s enough for anyone to have to hold on to.
You might think that there’s no connection between the story I just told you and the one I’m about to tell you, but here’s why I was reminded of that day.
Last month, I went to Washington, D.C., to participate in the North Carolina Business and Economic Development Summit. I was there to talk about the state, and Our State, and it was humbling to stand on Capitol Hill and see our American flag flying atop the building, and to think about all the things — many of which we’ll never know — that have happened in our history to keep us all walking free. It made me hold my head high.
In one of the meetings, I listened to a four-star general in the U.S. Marine Corps speak about the enormous contribution of North Carolina’s military and the profound effect our bases, and the training that happens here, has had on the nation, on the world.
I had the stories from this issue — our veterans issue — fresh in my head, so, at the break, I leaned over and spoke to the man sitting beside me, a businessman named David McLamb who had come up from Laurinburg.
I told him what we were working on back at home.
He said that he grew up in Fayetteville in the ’60s.
He said then, as now, the military presence was tremendous.
He said his draft number was 179.
They were going to 190.
David told me about gathering in a large room, maybe the high school gymnasium, with so many other boys for the draft call. They all listened, hearts pounding, hoping, praying, that it wouldn’t be their number, that it wouldn’t be their number, that it wouldn’t be their number.
He said when someone’s number came up, the boy spat out a profanity, got up, and left the room. Eventually, David’s number was called.
He teared up when he was talking to me. I saw the welling in his eyes as he remembered something I’ll never know, something he carries deep inside him, like all veterans do.
Like all humans do.
I thought about my accident as an 8-year-old child; I thought about the 17-year-old boy; I thought about all the people — our neighbors, coworkers, friends, brothers, sons, fathers — who carry scars others can’t see. About how we go on anyway, with courage, with strength, with our heads held high.
Maybe, in an embrace of humanity, we all ought to give each other a nod.
A silent salute to the burdens we bear.
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