Have you ever noticed how contagious gratitude can be?
I just had the opportunity, thanks to the William & Mary DC area Alumni organization, to welcome an Honor Flight coming into Reagan National Airport. On it were men and women who had served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam who were flown into Washington, DC so they could tour the monuments and memorials erected in their honor.
All I had to do was show up with a smile; posters and flags were optional. William & Mary colors were encouraged. Turns out there were a lot of us who thought this was a great opportunity. It seemed like every other person in the security line was there to meet the Honor Flight. Green and gold mingled with red, white and blue was everywhere.
Patriotic balloon bouquets greeted us at gate 38 as we gathered, and our numbers began to swell. Couples and singles, families with young children, girls and boys, teens and young adults, the middle-aged and older yet all swept into the mix. The chatter among us grew in connection and anticipation. “Their plane was early,” the gate crew told us, “so be ready.”
Suddenly, the brass of the Roger Whitworth Band brought us to our feet as they belted out the National Anthem. And not only us, the volunteer greeters forming the welcome tunnel, but all the people in neighboring gate areas as well. We all stood in honor of the anthem and saluted the flag in honor of our guests who would disembark any moment.
Then, all eyes to the jet way, a voice announces, “Here they come!”
And so they did. How delightful to see the first to emerge, as he stopped in his tracks to take in the scene. With a sincere bow, he waved and smiled as he was ushered along the runway like a New York City model. Cheers rang out, salutes given, whistles and thanks. Thunderous applause.
Then the next and the next. Each one receiving their welcome in their own way. Some were gregarious like the first. Some looked down as if embarrassed. Some in wheelchairs, some with walkers, some with canes. Some sprightly, shaking hands. Some jovial, smiling broadly.
Many, really most, were slow and deliberate. Each red-shirted veteran walked with a blue-shirted companion which, I learned later, had been assigned to accompany them in their day. Some companions pushed the wheelchairs, held hands, or walked behind to be sure of balance, but many wielded cell phones, video-recording the events making a lasting memory for their patrons.
From my place among the left flank of greeters, I was mesmerized by the glory on these faces. These men and women who had served their country proudly in ages past wore age and beauty, character and wonder, delight and surprise. Not many of them, I suppose, are wealthy executives, judging by their demeanor and their dress. They have just flown several hours in anticipation of visiting memorials where they will remember friends and comrades gone and are sure to recall experiences they may have long-ago chosen not to remember. Yet, I watch them in utter amazement. Some weep or choke back tears of joy. Most wave in acknowledgement; some applaud back to us!!
As they make the turn toward the concourse I realize that time has stopped in that corridor. Not a soul is moving in all of Terminal C! The crowd blocks the width of it and not a soul complains. Continuous applause rings out.
The ranks of our hundred or so volunteers are now buffeted by the per-chance traveler out of Washington DC on a Saturday morning. All those, too, are now gathered around gate 38 to see what the fuss is about. There is a small child hoisted up on Daddy’s shoulders to get a better look. Beyond her, a tv screen shows news that no one is watching.
Our attention is center stage until the last, a veteran of WWII, makes his rightful way along the imaginary red carpet and is wheeled through the throng on his way to the bus and the mall and the memorial.
Roger Whitworth and the boys in the band hold their last note and applause swells and then tapers. Over the intercom, an announcer closes the festivities: “One hundred and fifty reasons why we are free today.”
Hands numb from clapping, with smiles affixed, and bidding fond farewells to newfound friends, people turn to go about their days. What an amazing moment we have just witnessed. We came to welcome and honor men and women for their service, and they applauded back to us just for being here.
Gratitude does that.
Frankly, had it not been for the woman who climbed the steps to my porch a few weeks ago to introduce herself and tell me what she brought to the race for the office she was seeking, I probably would have been among the ranks of the apathetic on this election day. But we visited for a bit. She listened as I told her about an issue of particular concern to me. Then we chatted about her three grown boys who nearly matched my three grown girls.
So, when election day came I thought, if I don’t mark anything else on my ballot, I’m going to the polls so I can cast my vote for her.
Well, that’s when I realized how uninformed I was about the other races going on. It’s not easy to cram for an election, you know. Trying to find details about candidates, their positions on issues, their voting record or even their character traits – even with the magnificent internet – is a research project I really didn’t want to undertake.
I dabbled a bit and then headed to the polls, certain of only one vote I would cast. Along the sidewalk outside the elementary school, I gamely accepted both pink and blue sample ballots and then settled into a chair in the hallway, put there to accommodate the long line of voters waiting their turns. There was no line and no competition for a seat. So there I sat and scanned, like a kid hoping to glean just that little bit of information that will earn him the passing grade on the imminent test.
Then I entered the nearly vacant gym, produced my ID, got my ballot, and sat to bubble in (completely) for the candidates I had selected and the bond issues I chose to support. Satisfied, I fed the ballot into the machine that would tally my votes. Whew! What a relief.
That’s when I looked up into the face of a white-haired gentleman, whose furrowed lines all led to the kind smile beneath his well worn WWII cap. He stood, poised to deliver my ‘I VOTED’ sticker.
“Put it right here,” I told him, indicating my left shoulder. He did, and with such joy that I just had to shake his hand.
“Thank you for your service,” I said.
“You were worth it,” he replied.
Wow. When you put it like that…
What if my life were on that ballot? The poor excuse for due diligence, the casual approach to decision-making, the haphazard consideration given to allocation of resources. What if, after casting that vote, I got to shake the hand of the one whose sacrifice made it all possible, and He replied, “You were worth it”?
It’s an election year, folks. Bubble in completely.