They gathered in the hotel’s sports bar. The day was over, and the visits were complete. I had seen it before, but for many of them this was their first last meal.
Thirteen cartoonists (including five first-timers) had just completed visits to the Naval Regional Medical Center in San Diego and the VA Medical Center in La Jolla. Their job had been to draw funny pictures for the troops who were being treated there. As always, there had been laughter, animated conversations, and a palpable affection between the battle-torn troops and the affable cartoonists. And there had been some tears too. Good tears.
When the day was over the artists got together for one last meal before heading home. The last meal is important because it offers an opportunity to reflect and share the emotions that had been building throughout the day.
Talk instantly turned to the patients they had seen. They talked about the incredibly positive attitudes of men who faced surgeries and painful therapy with a stoicism that would put an elite athlete to shame. They saw determination too – a drive to get better, to get past the hurdles and start contributing again.
There was sadness as well, and genuine anguish for the challenges those brave Marines and Sailors faced.
But in the end, as they sipped on their beers and reflected on the day, the cartoonists knew they had been in the presence of greatness. And with that, the normally bombastic group of cartoonists got up, quietly settled the tab and made their way home.
The last meal was over.