I was fourteen, lying in a hospital bed far from home. Surgery had gone well, or so I was told. But I hadn’t slept well. I usually lay in a position half-way on my stomach and side. That proved to be almost impossible with my leg in a full cast and elevated on a box in my bed.
My male nurse walked in one afternoon when the TV was on as background noise to bore me back to sleep. He started his normal routine to record my progress when the sports commentator announced the national anthem. At that, my nurse pulled off my sheets. “Come, you got to stand.”
“I’m not ready to stand.”
He ignored my objections and got me to my feet, leaning against my bed for support.
I was sure the rule to stand for the national anthem applied only to those present in live events, not to those hearing it on a radio or watching it on television. But, there I stood beside my nurse with my hand over my heart while “and the home of the brave” faded. In the grandstand, I probably would have been the first to my feet, but in the hospital room, with the two of us and a mindless television, I felt silly.
Before getting discharged a few days later, my nurse Manuel Ruiz told me his story. He hadn’t always been a nurse. He used to be a doctor—a highly respected and well-paid doctor in Cuba. “I had a beautiful house. Big. Many rooms and marble floors. It seemed bigger and empty after my wife died, leaving me and my son alone in it. Can you guess my favorite room?”
I looked up to the ceiling, hoping to pull some room name out of the air. “I don’t know. Did you have a ballroom for dances?”
“Close. I had a music room. That was where my grand piano stood. Oh, how I loved playing that piano.”
His expression changed. He seemed to be looking back at his losses, feeling the pain all over again.
“Communism. The revolutionaries looked at all who had wealth as enemies of the government. Many were imprisoned. Some were killed. Before they got to my door, I packed what I could for my son and me in two suitcases. On a moonless night we made it to the shoreline where we got into a small boat and left for Florida, the closest point of the United States.”
My heart raced. “Sounds dangerous.”
“We were all very afraid. If we were caught, the revolutionaries would surely have killed us. We traveled with no lights across the hundred miles of shark filled water, waves seeking every opportunity to sink us. Hours later we landed on the coast of Florida. Land never looked so good. We were first put into a secure location until the government decided what to do with us. I was told I could continue to work in medicine but not as a doctor.”
He told me of all he left behind—the status, position, wealth, house, and family and friends– he missed his piano the most. He added it was only a matter of time before he would have lost it all under the revolution.
Leaving it all behind was the cost he chose to pay for life and liberty. And it is why it was so important to stand to show respect and gratitude for the United States being there for him and his son. Yes, even standing alone in a room in front of a stupid television while the Star-Spangled Banner was played.
The cost of freedom is worth the price—a price that is paid daily through diligently and reverently maintaining what has been delivered to us.