Thoughts for Memorial Day

I wrote this in July of 2007 while waiting for a flight – and thought it was perfect for Memorial Day weekend.

I am in the Jacksonville Airport. Now as far as airports go, JAX is not bad – it has a Starbucks on both sides of security and free wireless, a pretty good place to spend an afternoon because of overbooked flights when trying to fly standby.

I got here about 10:00, my flight leaves about 5:00 so I’ve been doing some people watching. People began to gather at the exit from Terminal A with balloons and banners. The excitement of the giggling little ones caught my attention and I stopped working on trying to fix my father’s e-mail (very long story) and watched. Approximately 8 kids, about 3-6, hopped, jumped and were acting crazy. As exhausted as I am, I thought, a .10th of an ounce of that energy and I can feel better.

One of the t-shirts caught my eye. Unmistakably Carolina Blue, I giggled a bit silently at the bravery of wearing that color in Florida given the Gators’ status as 2-time defending champion and all. I twisted back to see what the shirt said. “My Daddy Comes Home Today!” The little boy turned around and the front of the shirt was his father’s picture with the background that was most certainly Iraq.

I took a closer look at the people gathered. All walks. All types. The children were the uniting factor that had deceived me into thinking that this was one big group waiting for one person. The adults stood apart from each other. All fidgeting, glancing at the arrivals board, counting down the minutes until they could expect to see that first glance of a loved one.

People started to tell their kids to come back over as the first people made their way down into the terminal from the Atlanta flight. The adults protectively put their arms around the little ones: or, was it the little ones who provided the reminder that yes, a loved one really, really was coming home today. The kids, all post 9/11 children, knew not to run down into the terminal. I did not know anybody in this gathering but found myself wishing the process would just hurry up. You could feel the range of emotions. How much has changed forever? To simply the jumping jack wearing the t-shirt “My Daddy Comes Home Today”.

I felt this stupid lump in my throat and felt my eyes tear up. I have seen soldiers walking through airports but never seen a combat deployed solider reunited with a loved one. One by one, they appeared. All looked exhausted, proud and very glad to be standing among friends, family and loved ones. The Daddy of the jumping jack bent over the stroller – and picked up a baby. He is more beautiful in person, he said. I lost it. Tears streaming down my face, I felt like a voyeur, this was supposed to be a private moment, a parent seeing a child for the first time should not happen in the middle of the airport. He kissed his forehead. I glanced over at his wife. Her hands over her mouth and tears pouring out of her eyes, she shook, as if every prayer ever uttered from her mind was answered in that moment. It probably was.

What I know about being pregnant, I’ve learned from my siblings and friends. You pray for a healthy, happy child to be born. 10 fingers and 10 toes, but really in the end, it is the healthy and happy baby is more important than which side of the family can claim the nose.

All I know about being deployed into combat, I’ve learned from my parents. My mother told me, she prayed every day that my father safely returned from Vietnam. It’s never been said, but I would wager, my father had the same prayer.

I hate this war. It is stupid and dumb. Those are my political beliefs. I’m proud (?) of my generation for not taking it out on the soldiers when they come home. For recognizing the lessons of who is to blame (stupid president) and who is not to blame (the father of the jumping jack).

Every once in awhile, I see a welcome home sign hanging from an overpass on the Pike or on 128. But there was something much more tangible today. There were faces of relief, joy, pride and something that I never should have seen. He was a beautiful baby, big, big eyes and the sweetest smile. His father should have met him about 8 months ago. Not today, in an airport.

I started to wipe out my eyes and looked up. The person sitting across from me was doing the same. It never gets old, he said. But, I wish it did, I added.

We nodded went back to our computers and didn’t make eye contact again.

I hate this war. I really, really hate it.

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