The parking lot at the Annapolis Exchange and Commissary is tiny. To make matters worse, after 9-11 they had to add barriers to keep people from parking too close to the building, which had a secondary effect of making each row a dead end. It’s impossible to drive around and look for a spot, if you choose to head down a row, you better know there is an actual space waiting for you, otherwise you will be executing a three point turn (or seven point turn in some cases) to get out.
Adding to this mess is general old age of the pavement that causes cracks and potholes as well the construction that is going on adjacent to the facility. So you get my drift when I say that parking is never easy here.
If you time your visit right and go on “off hours” you can generally see far enough ahead that it’s at least manageable. An inconvenience at worst. But yesterday was one of those days that I went at the wrong time. Not only was this trip right before Thanksgiving, but the weather was really lousy, too. Cold…..rain…..a little sleet. It took a while, but after a couple of slow laps around the maze and seeing a few spots taken by other people just as I was getting close, I finally found a spot. About as far away from the exchange as you could get and still be on the property.
It was on the way back from the exchange that I saw the sign for the Gold Star Family Spots. It was right there next to the spot for expectant mothers, flag officers, and Master Chiefs. I had seen it before and to be honest I have never seen anyone use it. In fact, I’ve even wondered if it’s been used at all, I mean…come on… this is the Naval Academy. People don’t deploy from here into harms way. I know they will in the future, but not now….so how many fallen service members have families that are really shopping at this little commissary on the Severn River?
I actually got a little cynical. After spending ten years in Camp Lejeune, the home of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force, I know about the toll of war. I’ve been deployed and lost Marines from my unit. I know they have families. I’ve been to the memorial services.
Camp Lejeune could almost have a Gold Star Parking Lot. I started to wonder if the reason the signs were put up had something to with “jumping on the bandwagon”. I know I shouldn’t have felt that way, and even chided myself for letting the thought hit my brain. I do admit, though, that every once in a while it happened.
It was yesterday, walking back to my car in the cold and rain, through the dreary labyrinth of poorly parked vehicles that I saw the spot from a very different perspective. The solitude of this real estate reminded me of the POW/MIA Table that you see at a formal military dining event. Like the empty table with its clean white cloth and singular place setting, these prime parking spaces served as reminder about the nature of the business we are in, a reminder that all of us have families.
It was the emptiness that struck me.
Moments like this remind us that life isn’t always perfect and things don’t always go as planned. They remind us that we should be truly thankful for the things that are most important. They remind us that there are a lot of really good people out there who are celebrating the holidays with an empty seat at the table. For some this may be the first holiday without a loved one, but for others it may be now a regular occurrence. I won’t presume to know, but I imagine the idea that time heals all wounds doesn’t quite cover it.
We should be thankful for what we have, because “There but the grace of God go, I”. I won’t ever look at those spots the same way again. I’m glad they are there, even if they never get used.