Years ago I was in Pineville, Louisiana, to speak at Louisiana College. They put me up for the night in a wonderful old hotel in downtown Alexandria, The Hotel Bently. To enjoy the wonders of historic buildings you have to endure their old quirks and failings. Sort of like you have to do to enjoy the wonder of us old "men of a certain age."
Unfortunately, for the Hotel Bently, while it had undergone some rehab and modernization, the elevators were still on the to-do list. So, returning from my speaking engagement, I returned to the hotel and boarded the elevator. It made it up roughly two and half floors and quit. I was stuck on an old elevator; tired and hungry.
Fortunately, a phone had been added and it worked. The rescue took 30 minutes or so, which seemed like three hours or so. The doors were manually separated and a ladder was lowered into my little prison. I climbed free. The Freedom was sweet indeed.
The hotel manager was on hand for the rescue, full of apologies he was ready with vouchers for free drinks in the hotel bar. "Oh, that's okay," I said. "It wasn't your fault and anyway, I don't imbibe." He asked what they could offer for the inconvenience. "How about some of those little bottles of shampoo and conditioner." I said with a smile. He looked at my bald head, but missed the irony. We finally agreed on a room-service burger and fries.
Just a few weeks later I was scheduled to speak at an event in Tulsa. Again I was staying in a downtown hotel, but a modern one. I don't remember the name of it but it involved two trees. (a Mitch Hedberg joke.)
I remember using my recent elevator saga in my talk to illustrate the sweetness of freedom. The next morning I was at breakfast in the hotel restaurant. At a table near me, were three older men and two women. The men were wearing military style caps and I noticed POW patches on the caps. Then I noticed many more in the restaurant. Turns out it was a reunion of a group who had been prisoners of war together.
When their breakfast arrived, the fun, rowdy conversation stopped. They joined hands and one of the men lead them in a prayer. He was thankful for the food, the company, but most of all for FREEDOM. I watched and listened and thought: how could I possibly think I could understand freedom from the context of being stuck in an elevator.
I learned that a heart, truly grateful, has truly known hopelessness, emptiness, fear and despair.
I can't truly empathize with those who have made, as we say, the ultimate sacrifice, because I never have. But I can remember them; and the lives of their loved ones left behind, fractured by their passing and injuries.
The price is so high.