Two years ago I wrote about an experience I had with a young veteran amputee I met in a New York City elevator. It was a powerful moment in time and many of you felt the same after reading my post.Since then I’ve had many memorable encounters with veterans, although none until today’s has moved me to write.
I arrived early at the airport for a flight to Boston where I’ll be speaking to a group of executives about my book, Field Tested. As I rode the escalator down to the main level, I saw a scene unfolding that took my breath away. A small crowd had gathered around the window overlooking the tarmac. Outside, at the bottom of a commercial jet’s baggage conveyor, there was a group of men in uniform standing at attention as a flag-draped casket slowly emerged from the body of the plane.
I joined the onlookers who stood watching in silence. It felt like a sacred moment. With unhurried precision, the men lifted the casket, turned and proceeded across the tarmac to the waiting hearse. There, they lowered it with such care and turned inward, standing at the open door for what seemed like several minutes but was probably only one. Time drags out when you’re holding your breath.
What were they doing? I imagined they might be speaking something to the memory of the fallen soldier. Finally, the group placed the casket gently into the vehicle before turning as one and proceeding slowly across the tarmac.
It was such a gift to bear witness to the small ceremony taking place in the midst of commercial planes taking off and landing. I knew that a family’s heart was breaking. As the travelers around me dispersed, back to the business of traveling, I hoped they were moved by what we had just observed.
I was reminded of the young man I had met in the elevator two years ago. I said at the time that we civilians would be, more and more, confronted with visual evidence of war. Bearing witness to it was, I said, and still is our duty and honor as civilians.
If I could make a wish right now, aside from the obvious one for an end to war, I would wish that everyone could have an experience like I did today. It is an important thing to be faced with such realities. I welcome these unexpected moments in time, and am left changed by each and every one.
Much gratitude to all who have served.