I cried for you yesterday. No, we’ve never met; I don’t even know your name.
See, I was cutting it close for my flight at Dulles airport. I run-walked into the gate area, breathing heavily and covered with that thin sheen of sweat that comes from watching the minutes count down from the end of a very long security line. That’s when I noticed that something was off. The crowd at the gate was standing, congregating in front of the long windows. I pushed my way to an open space and that’s when I saw you. While a steady stream of oblivious passengers disembarked from the jetway above, the cargo hold opened and produced one precious item – a casket draped with the American flag. Sadly this scene plays out in airports all over our country, but this is the first time that I had ever seen it. So many lives lost over these years of war and so few required to bear witness to its real cost. (That is a thought for another post.)
I have never been one to hold much value in pomp and circumstance, but the military ritual for this occasion was a thing of somber beauty. Officers with shiny brass buttons snapped to attention while your family huddled together for strength. Nine soldiers in Navy whites began a slow march toward the casket with fluid motions that somehow equally conveyed strength, pride, bravery, and loss. With the hearse door closed, synchronized salutes and more marching in formation marked the end of the rite. Welcome home soldier. God speed on your final journey. A dark haired woman hugged one of the officers and the entire group drove off to figure out life after tragedy.
During this event my fellow travelers and I stood in silence, the air heavy with personal memories and reflections. No mindless chatter. No checking email. No gate announcements. No complaints about delays, fees, miles or any of the other things that seemed so very important just moments prior. Honestly, I don’t even remember hearing any phones ringing. There we stood, side by side – varying races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages – together a breathing monument to the freedoms that you died to protect. As your family drove away there were a few lingering sniffles and then the group dispersed, shaking off lingering emotions so that we could return to the business of living.
I cried for you yesterday. Hello. Goodbye. Thank you.