We’re in the midst of a string of home improvement projects. Unfortunately, we're not exactly do-it-yourself people. We’re more like hire-someone-else people, which is expensive and basically means we don’t get much done around the house.
To fuel our projects and get some much needed guidance, we found ourselves at the Riverton, Utah, Lowe's being assisted by an associate named Steve Bell. He had what looked to be a bionic arm. We figured he’d had some surgery on his shoulder or elbow or maybe a combination of the two.
We didn’t think much of it.
He gave us all kinds of advice, shared his expertise and moved with us through the store as we perused different products for our various projects. We finally ended up at the “Project Desk.”
He mentioned saving our project under another associate's name since he wasn’t planning to be around. When asked where he'd be going, he mentioned that he was headed to a military base out of state. Then I noticed his military haircut and looked again at his arm.
I didn’t want to be rude, but I had to ask about it.
He told us that he’d recently returned from Afghanistan, casually explaining that his arm had been severely injured by an enemy improvised explosive device.
I was stunned. I hear all about IEDs on the "Today" show, but I never fully connected the danger to real-life people or people I might meet in my own community.
Because we asked, he told us a little about his recovery and how surgeons had moved the nerve inside his arm, allowing him to recover sensation in his fingers.
I realized in that moment that we were in the presence of a wounded war hero, although he fiercely denies he’s a hero.
“I appreciate your gratitude, but I am not a hero by any means,” Bell said. “If you want a real American hero, look up SFC James Thode. He’s a true American hero who gave all for his country. He will forever be missed.”
Meeting Bell made me recognize all our soldiers, including Bell, and their families deserve to be put on a pedestal. I couldn’t hack it as the wife of a soldier. I know that. I could barely hold back tears until he was five steps away.
I cried tears of gratitude for his service as we bought our silly little home improvement items. I sobbed all the way out to the car. Our casual trip to the hardware store had suddenly transformed into an amazing experience where we realized the selfless service our military members give us on a daily basis, whether we realize it or not.
I felt like I should throw him a parade, or give him a medal or at least buy him dinner. We went back into the store to thank him for his service. I wanted him to know that we noticed and appreciated his courage and sacrifice. Of all the stupid things I post pictures of on my blog, this was one opportunity for a photo I did not want to miss.
So here he is, Army Specialist Steve Bell, a very helpful Lowe's associate, a wounded soldier on the road to recovery and an American hero.
But don’t call him that to his face. He’ll argue.
He may never realize how touched we were by this unexpected experience. We wish him well in his recovery and grieve with him in the loss of his dear friend.
Kristin Sokol is an outspoken advocate for fun! She authors TheVocalSokol.com, a blog dedicated to helping women stay happy mostly by doing fun things.