Slingshots and Indelible Reminders

We are a slingshot family these days. Imagine a map of the United States. Picture a point in the farthest reaches of the Pacific Northwest. That’s my daughter and son-in-law up there, in country once explored by Lewis & Clark, with its misty forests, soaring mountains, and legendary traffic. Then picture a second point way up in the northeast along the Atlantic coast. That’s my other daughter and my husband, the Grass Master and the Great One, collaborating with a team of talented creatives to bring the world’s largest outdoor retail experience indoors.

If that’s the “sling,” that leaves me, the “shot,” down here perched on the sandy shores of the Gulf of Mexico, almost as far west in Florida as a body can physically go without crossing into Alabama. And there we are, scattered across three time zones, almost 2500 miles from east to west. I’m 2700 miles from one part of my family and 1200 miles from the other.

But instead of moaning about how far apart we are, I prefer to dwell on how close we are despite the miles and time zones between us. Thanks to the wizardry of technology, we can text, FaceTime, Skype, instant message, e-mail, or (sometimes) call any time we are so inclined. I can set up a CopperCam so my daughter can see her beloved Golden Retriever. I can watch her make a fabulous dinner. I can’t take her to the mailbox due to the limitations of wi-fi, but who wants to make a family outing to the mailbox anyway?

An airman escorting the body of a fallen hero stands at attention.

Earlier this week as part of our family journeyed northeast after a visit home, they snapped an airport photo (above).

At first glance, it looks like a scene you see every single day, at airports everywhere. Plane at gate. Luggage carts. Supply and fuel carts. Jetway in place. Check, check, check.

But look closer. Look at the nose of the plane, and then look to its left, on the runway, on the ground itself. See him? Standing there? A lone airman, standing at attention. Waiting to render honors as a yet-unseen flag-draped casket slowly rolls by.

And suddenly you realize what is unfolding in front of you. With no fanfare whatsoever, you understand that this man is escorting a hero home to his or her final resting place. And the background noise of a busy airport fades away, and the silence inside you grows into something large and almost tangible. You are on your feet, at the window, hand over your heart, tears in your eyes, grieving the loss of someone you never got the chance to know, honoring their service and their sacrifice.

At the end of most flights, people wait impatiently, eager to welcome friends and family at the end of a journey home. At the end of this flight, passengers waited while the airman escort disembarked first, to respectful applause. And at the end of this trip, a grieving family waited with a peculiar mixture of dread and anticipation to welcome home a beloved family member who gave their life for their country.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly, highly recommend watching the movie “Taking Chance.” Based on a journal kept by Lt Col. Michael Strobl as he escorted PFC Chance Phelps to his home in Wyoming, it is a powerful, compelling tribute to our fallen heroes and their journey home.

I especially like this journal excerpt: “The Marine Corps is a special fraternity. There are moments when we are reminded of this. Interestingly, those moments don’t always happen at awards ceremonies or in dress blues at Birthday Balls. I have found, rather, that they occur at unexpected times and places: next to a loaded moving van at Camp Lejeune’s base housing, in a dirty CP tent in northern Saudi Arabia, and in a smoky VFW post in western Wyoming.” And, I might add, on a hot, humid day beneath towering thunderheads in Pensacola, Florida.

Watching the airman today, I am sure that the Air Force is an equally special fraternity. Today’s snapshot is one of those indelible reminders.

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