As I was wheeled through the Atlanta airport again, the only available seating at our gate was amongst a group of young servicemen returning from Iraq on two-week leave. They grinned at the white haired, red-hatted old lady in jeans, and began to talk with me.
While it’s true that I live in a military area with various bases all around us, and while I often see service people in their uniforms, I was moved to see so many really young men in desert fatigues. Those light tan desert boots, looking almost like athletic shoes, suddenly made me realize that these were the kids I saw in the statistics. These kids had left homes and families and jobs to go there and supposedly make a better life for Iraqis and Americans. And, they were kids. Admittedly, kids who had grown up long before they should have done so, but kids. Little more than seniors in high school.
One guy was going to visit friends; one was going home to parents; and one older guy was going home to his wife, two daughters, a son and a niece recently adopted. Three teenage daughters and a pre-teen son. I heard him say to his wife on the phone, “I’ll take care of that when I’m home.” How difficult it must be to rear a family when one person is absent! How much time and effort the mother must make! And, he was tired, not just from the long traveling, but bone weary. He talked about how the weather was warming up but it was still cold at night, 80s in the daytime. He talked about having some air conditioned rooms and how some soldiers still had only tents.
And, they all wanted to talk about ordinary things – not Iraq, not the government, not even their families much. They wanted to know Was my hot dog good? Where was I going? Why was I so excited about the pandas? Where did I come from? Was I retired? The ordinary conversation of old ladies and young polite men…if such ordinariness exists. They tried to smile, but the smiles were tired and weak.
I told them I prayed for our troops but that I didn’t have faces for them until now. And, now I do. I see that tall fellow in the sunglasses that sat a couple of seats from me. I imagine him in full dress fatigues with his pack. And, I almost cry. They need a good grandmother there – one who will bake for them and listen to them and sit quietly with them. They need us all to pray for them, and, as one said, “Pray for America, too.”
Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you. Amen.