Recently, I was running errands at school during my free class period when I bumped -- quite literally -- into a man in combat boots and fatigues. When I looked up, his rigid posture, outfit and haircut screamed military. I thanked him for his service, a response ingrained in me by my parents.
He smiled at me and said, "Thank you for your support." I then asked if there was anything I could do for him, and he asked for help finding the main office. I decided to walk him there.
We chatted along the way, and I learned a few important things about the military man with a kind smile: His name is James, he is 28, on leave from his tour of duty, and he's home visiting his wife and baby daughter.
I was shocked when I found out that his daughter had been born six months ago, and he had just held her for the first time a few days ago. He grinned and told me that while this is something he signed up for when he joined the military, "This probably will be my favorite Christmas ever." I instantly got emotional. The words "Thank you for your service" suddenly meant a lot more.
This experience demonstrated how Christmas has a special significance to numerous people of different ages and backgrounds. This includes military personnel, who know all too well what it is like to be away from home for so long -- especially during the holidays.
My chance encounter reminded me of the military men and women who rarely connect with the civilian world. These wars being fought have become the white noise of society. James reminded me about the importance of family, and how the holidays especially are a time to show our gratitude to service members.
James' story -- similar to many others in the military -- prompted me to do something especially meaningful this holiday season. My friends and I have written more than 150 letters collectively to military members who will be spending their Christmas overseas. We're part of the "Letters to Soldiers" club at my high school, which was started to give those in far-off lands some small connection to home. While I was a member of this club before meeting James, the insight I gained from our meeting made me jump into the club activities wholeheartedly, as opposed to my lukewarm involvement before. It's especially important during Christmas, a time most people get to spend at home with their families, that we as a country show our support.
In just a few minutes, James inspired me to take action and convey my thanks in a tangible way. I certainly could not make the sacrifices that some service members do.
To our military men and women: Thank you for your service, and thank you to the families who sacrifice so much.
The Life in Perspective board is made up of teens who write for the features sections. Neeja Patel attends Fremont High School. Reach her at email@example.com.