Friday, April 11, 2008

Witnessing a Farewell

A few weeks ago I was in Pittsburgh on business. Before I returned to Dallas, I spent a wonderful Saturday and most of Sunday with my son, Patrick, and his wife, Leni.

On Sunday afternoon I found myself at an airport gate sitting opposite a tall, lean soldier in “coffee-stain” camouflage and tan boots. On the floor next to him was his military backpack with its numerous webbed straps and pockets. He was sprawled comfortably in a chair surrounded by two younger brothers, his parents, uncle, and little niece. I presumed that the soldier was heading for the Middle East, because Dallas, our destination, is a military overseas embarkation point.

While reading a book, I couldn't help noticing the soldier teasing the little brother who sat next to him. I could tell that the boy, who was about 10 years old, was in awe of his soldier brother but tried not to show it.

As I got into line to board the plane, I saw the soldier give each little brother a long, rocking, very tight embrace. I realized that I wasn’t the only one who noticed the soldier when I saw the young woman in front of me wipe away her tears.

The line began moving toward the ticket agent. The boarding was routine except that there was no talking. The usual buzz of voices heard during boarding was absent, in an eerie way. There was just the sound of shuffling footsteps, the jostling of carry-on baggage, and the muffled crying of a mother saying farewell to a soldier son.