Saturday, May 6, 2017

Clapping for Honor in Our Jammies

Older Dad Note No. 83
Five weeks ago today, we left our DC hotel early morning for an 8:30 a.m. flight out of Reagan National. (Jessica had sung at the Kennedy Center in DC, with family in tow, family being Reade, Rachel, and me.)  This meant waking up solidly sleeping babies before the sun was up (which feels like throwing money out the window, such a waste of good sleep time). But we kept them in their jammies which added to the cute factor. Turns out we needed this cute factor and cashed in on a couple occasions (so maybe it wasn’t money out the window). 

Ticketing and security went relatively smoothly and as we were wrapping up in the security area we suddenly heard applause around the corner. It’s something you hear occasionally in an airport these days and I’ve come to recognize it right away. An Honor Flight of veterans had just arrived. They would be spending the day in DC visiting the memorial of their war. They began to walk by us as we were recovering from our security experience, clapping as we repacked our bags and regained our strollers. And then we saw on their t-shirts from where these vets came…Dayton, Ohio! Sudden affinity and camaraderie took over…several O-H-I-O’s were exchanged. “We’re headed to YOUR airport!” I would blurt out, unable to resist making all possible connections. And then we saw walking along in the flow of veterans a dear friend, Ron Frame, from Franklin, a small town near Middletown. He had served in the Navy in the Vietnam War. Hugs and tears all around.

There is something serendipitously special about being caught up in an arrival or departure of an honor flight in an airport terminal. It’s an opportunity to see humanity at its best. Hurried travelers stop and clap. They create a spontaneous, MacGyver-type of parade, showing celebratory respect with anything they have handy. They give up precious airport time to express appreciation. They push the limits of their boarding time. In fact, we were the last to board our plane, foregoing the coveted pre-boarding for “those with small children.”

It was worth it.

On the Honor Flight website you’ll see a quote from Will Rogers: “We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they walk by.” That was us and several hundred others.

That special moment in Reagan National sparked something in me as a dad. There are some things I want to be sure to teach Reade and Rachel:

1. Clap for veterans. They're heroes.
2. Be comfortable in saying “Thank you for your service.”
3. Honor sacrifice.
4. In between bites of hot dog and hamburger (or “hanggeber” as Reade, and now our family, calls it), give at least a moment of deep reflection on the reason for celebrating Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.
5. Read the Declaration of Independence every July 4.
6. Know where and when your family members served, especially your grandpa, great-grandpa, uncles, great uncles. But go back as many generations and wars as your heart leads you.
7. Cover your heart for the Pledge of Allegiance. Stand for the National Anthem.
8. Vote in every election, the big ones and the small ones.

On a more general note:

1. Be humble and kind (thank you singer Tim McGraw and writer Lori McKenna).
2. Pull over for funeral processions.
3. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice, from the little to the big.
4. Pay attention to the subtler special days in people’s lives: death dates of loved ones, anniversary dates of sobriety, the mark of another year of “cancer free.”
5. Visit cemeteries. Piece together the stories on the headstones.

And finally, set an alarm. Good things can happen when you get out of bed early. Even if you stay in your jammies.