Yesterday was one of those particularly rough travel days. Flights delayed. Connections missed. And another unplanned night away from home. (Although, six hours in the Sioux Falls Airport wasn’t as excruciating as it sounds.)
As I was waiting for my flight, however, I was watching a little girl, maybe 4-years old, running around with her mom. Since she was close in age to K-Man and because I’d already been gone for five days, I couldn’t help but watch her run up and down the hallway (“terminal” seems to broad of a description). Like most kids her age, she was blissfully unaware of the people watching her. Many of us stuck and of us smiling.
The little girl and her mom had been ahead of me in the security “line” (again, that seems like an exaggeration) and I noticed that they didn’t have any bags. “Traveling light with a little one? Bold.” I said. She just smiled and told me that they weren’t going anywhere, but instead were meeting her husband at the gate. I thought that was cool and wondered if dad had been away on a business trip for some time and if things like waiting at the gate was more easily allowed in a small town.
As the little girl kept running up and down the hallway, dad got off the plane. And he had indeed been on quite a business trip. Dressed in fatigues, dad had just returned from Afghanistan. I’ve never witnessed one of those military reunions live, in real life. I’ve seen plenty of them on TV, of course, and they always seem so staged. But here, in Sioux Falls, there weren’t any cameras rolling – just unbridled joy. True love on display.
The little girl wrapped her arms around her daddy and with what I think might be the perfect mix of laughing and crying, kept saying, “Daddy,” over and over again. He pulled a stuffed animal out of his bag and gave it to her – from what I could tell, it was hers and she was just letting him borrow it. Although there were probably 50 or more people just transfixed on them, I don’t think they had any clue. This family of three was in their own space, together for the first time in months, I imagine, and they couldn’t have cared less about anyone else.
I don’t have much firsthand experience with the military. I don’t have any good friends who have gone into the Service, and to my knowledge, I don’t personally know anyone well (or maybe anyone at all) who has been killed in combat. Reading Jon Krakauer’s story about Pat Tillman might be the closest I’ve ever gotten to “understanding” (HUGE exaggeration) what’s happening in the Middle East. In other words, I don’t have a clue.
But watching this scene unfold before me in Sioux Falls was an amazing moment. So many thoughts of my own life flashed before me. Yes, naturally, there was that cold splash of perspective. I get to be with my family every single day and I stress about things like social media. Am I “doing it right?” Is K-Man a happy kid? The natural, normal stuff. I’m confident in the fact that I’m a pretty good dad, so I don’t stress about that too much. And, I know that perspective is easy to find in all kinds of places.
But I also know that I can do better. And I think that’s what I’m going to take away. After all. We only get one shot at Real Life.