This evening I left work and was headed to a Toastmasters event and didn’t have much time. I ducked into a McDonalds to grab some dinner. The drive-thru line was really long, so I decided to just go inside.
I had no sooner sat down, when a soldier dressed in desert fatigues darted past my table, bent over at the waist to avoid being seen. He went to a nearby booth and lay low there. I happened to be facing him (he was about 20 feet away) and it felt sort of awkward, but fortunately, it didn’t last long.
Just then, on the other side of the Mickey D’s, a couple who appeared to be in their middle fifties entered, accompanied by a young woman and cute little girl with blonde hair, probably three years old at the most.
They turned the corner and were suddenly in front of the booth where the soldier lay crouched in waiting. The woman looked at the soldier as he stood up. “Are you kidding me?!?!?” she cried. They embraced. I’ve never seen people embrace so tightly that they were literally shaking. They embraced, they kissed, they embraced again. They embraced like people who weren’t entirely sure that the last time they embraced wouldn’t be their final time. It was as if their love for each other were transformed into electric energy. The room was absolutely alive with emotion. It was hard to tell whose eyes were more misty – theirs or mine.
The soldier then picked up his little girl and held her close. The shaking embrace of a spouse was replaced by the gentle but firm embrace of a father. He slowly stroked her beautiful blonde hair over and over as he whispered in her ear. Then he stood and hugged his wife and daughter together (group hug!).
I’ve seen these sorts of reunions on the evening news taking place at airports or at schools, but to see a surprise reunion, up close and in person moved me in ways that I don’t have words for.
I won’t poison this post with any debate or discussion of whether or not our military should be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. But, as a former Marine, I would like to point out the tremendous sacrifice our men and women in uniform WILLINGLY endure to do what they believe in, to protect our country, to protect you and me. It’s a sacrifice to serve when every waking moment may be your last. It’s a sacrifice to be away from loved ones and friends for months, or years on end… It’s a sacrifice to miss the only second birthday your daughter will ever have.
And so, it will be a long, long time, if ever, before I forget what I witnessed this evening. And, I hope in some small way my words might prompt you to give a moment of silent thanks for all those brave men and women who are willing to lay down their life, to protect yours.
I certainly didn’t want to intrude or break up this happy reunion, but as I left, I walked past and caught the soldier’s eye. I said “Thank you for all you do.” He stopped, turned toward me and said “thank you for your support”. I am not sure whose words meant more to whom.