Heroes Right in My Neighborhood

A 9-year-old's heart-gripping conversation with a soldier at the Community Center—follow his lead and say, "Thank you."


Almost weekly my oldest son, L, who is on the Autism Spectrum has a new career that he wants to be when he grows up. His career dreams used to last much longer.

We had an entire year of him wanting to be an engineer, then he dreamed of being a scientist. His longest , but it was recently was overthrown by being a soldier.

It's hard to explain his desire to be a soldier. We aren’t a military family, and we don’t know anyone currently in the military. He doesn’t even have a cool uncle in uniform that he looks up to, who comes to family functions. But when asked the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question, the first thing out of his mouth is—soldier.

As school was starting, he met a soldier in person, during the onslaught of extracurricular activities that comes with a new school year. Here's what happened:

I am at the Greenbelt Community Center signing up both of my children for classes when a man in army fatigues enters the office. One of the employees offers to help me at another desk so that both of us can be serviced at the same time. While I stand a few feet away, the boys stay by the door. L’s gaze immediately hooks on this man.

As I look over my shoulder, to keep an eye on my children, I notice the man has a large scar running down the side of his head. L approaches him with his arm stiffly erected in front of him, his hand out to shake the soldier’s hand. The man takes my son’s hands in his and shakes it ever so gently.

I notice that I’m holding my breath for fear that L is going to ask an obtrusive question. Children on the Autism Spectrum don’t have filters and L will speak exactly what is on his mind. Often it’s not the most polite thing to say, but instead it is brutally honest. I'm, of course, worried that L is going to ask him about his scar or worse.

L looks the man in the eye and with a furrowed brow says, “Thank you for the work you did in the war.”

I inhale, biting down on my lip, hoping that holds back the tears that are instantly beginning to well up in my eyes.

The man is obviously surprised by this nine-year-old's respect and thanks him. L says, “Can I ask you something?”

The soldier takes longer than the average person his age to get down on one knee, looking my son in the eye he says, “Sure thing.”

“Did you lose any friends in the war?”

The soldier takes a moment before answering and then slowly shakes his head yes. L places his small hand on the man’s shoulder and says, “I can be your friend now.”

The tears are now streaming down my face; there is no holding them back at this point.

“I’d like that little guy," he says and smiles at my son. I notice he wipes tears away himself as he gets up to his feet again. The soldier turns in my direction before leaving, and I smile at him. It’s hard not to notice the gigantic scar on his face, as well as that scar tissue on his eyelid has left one eye barely able to open.

“You’ve got a good one there,” he says to me pointing in L’s direction. I nod knowing full well the amazing children that God placed in my care. L stands there beaming a smile from ear to ear as if he’s just had a personal conversation with his hero.

And I think he just did.

Gretchen Schock is a mom, a writer and a yoga instructor. Check out her creative writings and crafty goodness on her blog, www.CocktailMom.com. Or come to a yoga class and be inspired!

Polly September 12, 2012 at 10:40 AM
OMG! Just reading this my eyes welled up with tears too. What a truly sweet story. Out of the mouths of babes, for sure. Thanks for sharing such a heartwarming story.
Jackie September 12, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Gretchen just know that L is more than a special child. L has a lot more to show us as he grows up. What a great story.
Gretchen Schock September 12, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Thank you so much for reading and commenting Polly. I truly appreciate it.
Gretchen Schock September 12, 2012 at 03:47 PM
I believe that is true, Jackie. Each child allows the parent to learn unbelievable lessons through parenting about themselves and the world around them. I'm taking note and going on this parenting journey with my eyes wide open. Be well, Gretchen
Bailey Henneberg September 13, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Beautiful story Gretchen—such a great heart your L has.
Gretchen Schock September 13, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Thank you so much, I think he's pretty incredible too!
Katrina Boverman September 13, 2012 at 01:27 AM
What a beautiful interaction to witness and to pass along. Perhaps the rest of us can help pass the beauty along to others too. thank you so much Gretchen for sharing the gifts of being present, compassion and love.
Dawn Mooney September 13, 2012 at 01:44 AM
I echo everyone else's comments here, Gretchen. This made me cry this morning as I read it, and I could picture the solemnity on L's face when he said this, so true to his heart. Thanks so much for sharing!
Sarah Wayland September 13, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Gretchen - that's a beautiful story. Your son is truly a blessing to this world. And you are too!
Deborah Coleman September 13, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Gretchen, I have a wonderful 19-year-old son who is also on the spectrum. While his mental age is still catching up to his chronological age, it always amazes me when he says or does something totally out of the ordinary. Having a child on the spectrum, regardless of their age, is truly a blessing from God Himself. I love reading your stories about L...please don't stop! May God continue to bless you, L and the rest of your family.
Gretchen Schock September 13, 2012 at 07:38 PM
Both of my boys continue to teach me to be in the present moment, the gift of parenting I guess. Thank you for reading Katrina and for commenting! Be well.
Gretchen Schock September 13, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Thank you Dawn for reading. I think any other child would have been scared to look this man in the face, his scars were pretty intense. I love that L can look past them and see the beauty within.
Gretchen Schock September 13, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Thank you so much Sarah for your kind words and for reading. Be well.
Gretchen Schock September 13, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Deborah it's so nice to meet another mom who has "walked a mile in my shoes". Thank you for reading and commenting.
Leah October 24, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Absolutely beautiful. And hi! I'm settled in Panama and getting back to blogging and reading. Can't wait to read all about what the boys and you have been up to. Take care!!!


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