Ali Blumenthal for Reader's Digest
It’s a Saturday morning, and I am eager to fly away. My husband and I will meet up with our son on the other side of the country to learn and explore together. Sitting now at the airport gate, my husband wanders away to stretch his legs. Moments later, he returns and whispers in my ear. I rise and follow him around the corner toward a large window facing the landing area. A crowd, solemn and still, gathers at the window and gazes out.
Now I am one of those peering in silence. On the tarmac, Marines stand straight and tall in formation, the plane door open, a ramp waiting. A white hearse is parked nearby. A man and a soldier stand on either side of a woman, supporting her, waiting for what is to come, for a sight she must surely have hoped and prayed never to see.
The ramp begins to move, and a flag-draped casket starts its descent. Airport personnel stand in reverent stillness. A few place their hands over their hearts, as I have done. We’re joined in witness, sending love to an honorable soldier whose name we’ll never know.
The woman’s face is contorted in pain as she wails in the way only a mother can, though her cries are unheard by those of us on the other side of the window. She collapses, knowing she will never again hear “Mom” from her son’s lips. She’ll never feel his loving arms encircle her shoulders or relish his sweet peck on her cheeks.
Another face, that of a square-jawed man, grimaces in pain, weakened by grief. The father holds his head in his hands and turns it back and forth, a refusal to accept this new reality. His son, the tiny boy he no doubt wrestled playfully, the teen he probably taught to drive, the son he stood so proudly by as he donned his Marine uniform, now lives only in his memory.
Those behind the glass stay silent, reflecting on this life, this loss, as the family and soldiers depart the runway. A dozen of us women, with red-rimmed eyes and tear-stained cheeks, move slowly away, dabbing our faces and sharing a mother’s profound grief.
Soon, each of us will fly off in planes and return to an ordinary life made extraordinary by this soldier’s courage, by this family’s sacrifice, and by this love shared by all who look out the window and know.