Friday, July 17, 2009

Getting There: A Hiatus

We drove almost to home, and stopped for provisions. Zach and Mark went into the store, leaving me and two very attractive young women in the back seat of the Prius.

Now would be the time to say that someone special to Zach drove all the way up from the deep South for two days, just on the chance of seeing him briefly at the airport.

She and her friends rolled into our home late Tuesday afternoon. We went on a quick tour of Maryland and spent the night on the Eastern Shore, so that I could participate in a television feature about my favorite little town. Interview over, we got back in the car and headed to the airport, picking up party food on the way back.

Lots of the other guys on the plane had said goodbye to wives and girlfriends and family back in Hawaii. Thanks to the delay of the flight to Germany, we were going to get a visit with Zach before we said our fare wells.

Sitting outside the store near home, a woman getting into her car saw the three of us girls squeezed into the back seat of the car. She laughed. You all look so cute in there I would take a picture if I had a camera.

Pam had just come from grocery shopping at Wegmans. I handed her my camera. The picture was going to be part of this story, and I wanted it.

While she learned how to use an iPhone camera, she recognized me, and we reminded each other how we connected. I introduced her to Zach's girlfriend and her best friend, and I told her what we were doing, and we laughed together.

Until Zach came out of the store with his dad. Pam has a good and loving heart. Something about the story and the impromtu visit touched her. You could see it in her eyes.

Oh, just go on and hug him, I said. It's all right. And she said no, and then darn it, she did it. A big ol' hug, laughing and crying and understanding.

Mark and Zach got into our car, and she got into her car, and then she said impulsively Would you like some salmon? I just got it... and with that, she pulled it from her car and pushed it into Zach's hands. It's highway robbery what they charge for it, but it's delicious. Take it. Just take it.

It was one of the sweetest, most human moments I've ever seen. She just wanted some way to express human feelings that are difficult to sum up. Perfect, expensive salmon was the most precious thing she had to offer at that moment; and she gave it with her whole heart.

Pam...thank you.

After that, it was home, and hugging the dogs, who were delirious with excitement, and talking with brothers, and finding bedding for everyone, and more talking and a whole lot of hugging his girlfriend, who had to leave before dawn the next day.

Zach took out his body armor, and I tried it on. The idea of working in it for a twelve-hour shift is mind-boggling. We all see pictures of troops wearing it, with their helmets, but you cannot imagine how it feels. Just strap a concrete block on your chest and one on your back and put a brick on your head, and you'll get the idea. Good grief. How do they do it? They must come back from deployments with no body fat at all. It's like working with weights for an entire day. It must be exhausting.

This isn't to glamorize the military or make them heroic or support any political agenda. It's just to help myself understand what parts of their work is like for them, and maybe to help other people who want to know understand.

The job they do: yep, they picked it. But they are human just like you and me. Lots of people go into the military for reasons that have nothing to do with wanting to be shot at. Some need opportunites lacking elsewhere in their life. Some need challenge. Some like structure, but are not necessarily warlike. Lots and lots of people in the miltary do clerical work, and cooking, and maintenance, and planning, and bridge building. Zach just happened to want to learn things about flying.

I want, as a human being, to appreciate their work. Appreciate in the true sense, which implies "I understand, from a little bit of experience" as well as "I am grateful".

I appreciated wearing body armor for all of five minutes. It weighed so much that after that brief experience I was sweating profusely in the air conditioning and started a neckache that lasted the whole next day.

Then he repacked it, ready to put on when they stopped in Germany. We all said goodnight, and went to sleep.


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