The Shimmer of Small Things

I grew up in a home with walls covered with military art and book-shelves crammed with tomes on famous campaigns, battles and military leaders. I vividly recall my father sitting on his bed at night, shining his boots for the next day, the smell of polish permeating the room. I asked him once why he did it. “Because it matters,” he told me.

Only years later, as a cadet at West Point, did I understand the significance such a ritual can take on. Shining shoes or boots can be painstaking and frustrating. Yet, the rewards are manifold. The rhythmic coaxing forth of a shine imbues pride and signifies effort and attention to detail. It is a small thing, but the Army taught me that, sometimes, it is the smallest things that signify the most. They serve as the foundation, the permission to allow great things to manifest.

Meaghan Mobbs


“The great satisfaction of military service is knowing that it matters. And if what you do matters, then you must matter as well.”

—Meaghan Mobbs

My eventual transition from military service to the civilian world was difficult, as it was for my dad and for many Veterans. The stereotype of the struggling Veteran is someone who is shell-shocked from combat and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But for many of us, the issue may ultimately be as simple as the inability to explain the meaning of a shoe shine. Or maybe — as my father told me years ago — it’s a reluctance to let go, because the great satisfaction of military service is knowing that it matters. And if what you do matters, then you must matter as well.

For a time, I was afraid that I might never find that sense of purpose again. But Teachers College, where I came to pursue these questions, gives voice to the voiceless and attention to the novel. TC encouraged my work and put faith in my conviction that most military Veterans aren’t afflicted by PTSD, but rather, by the experience of transition itself.

Now I have a new sense of purpose. It is a refinement of the feeling of selfless service I experienced in the military, a dawning conception that I still serve my Nation long after I’ve taken off my uniform. — Meaghan Mobbs

Former Army Captain Meaghan Mobbs is a third-year doctoral student in Clinical Psychology and the David & Maureen O’Connor Scholar at TC’s Resilience Center for Veterans & Families.

She was recently presidentially appointed to the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and also selected for the inaugural Bush Institute Stand-To Veteran Leadership initiative.