Of Long Service

streetSign-workingI’ve seen his byline several times over the years. Let’s call him “J,” which is fitting, since his first name begins with a “J.” I met J at my first magazine job on the 29th floor of the Time-Life Building. A month out of college, I was an editorial assistant and he, only two years older, was already an assistant editor. I know those two titles have variations of the same two words, but we were at opposite ends of the masthead and at polar opposites when it came to career goals. I dreamed of moving into the women’s magazine market and writing features, which I did. And he was determined to move around the world, reporting news from faraway lands – which he does. Still.

Over the years, I’ve followed his career, most of his stories filed from the war zones of the Middle East. But then the other morning, with one hand pouring syrup over my waffles and the other flipping through the latest issue of an international news magazine, my eyes fell on his name and then to his bio below, which was different than the last one I’d seen because of the addition of a single word. At some point between whenever that last time was and today’s breakfast, he’d become a “veteran foreign correspondent.”

Veteran? Before I knew it, I’d dumped five days of WeightWatchers® points onto my plate.

I pulled my tattered copy of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary from my bookshelf and looked up “veteran.” Yes, I still look up words the old-fashioned way, and I cherish my cloth-covered 1600-page, Tenth Edition – a souvenir, or artifact, of my editing days. Anyway, the first definition is: an old soldier of long service. And the second: a person of long experience in some occupation or skill.

Yikes! Seems like yesterday I was getting all decked out for work in what we called “Desperately Seeking Susan” couture: Doc Martins, oversized men’s suit jackets and Egyptian-style earrings. The years have surely passed, and now seeing J’s bio begs this question: When does anyone who’s been doing anything long enough considered a veteran of something?

Okay, I just spent a half hour between writing that last sentence and coming up with my answer: We are veterans when our work is more about who we are instead of what we do; we are veterans when who we are inspires others. And we are veterans when our experience and expertise has more to do with honor instead of hours.

Happy Veterans Day to the soldiers. And to all you who have become what you once started out only doing, thank you for your service.

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