Tears flow just as I expected. I knew this was coming, I knew exactly what it would be like, and the tears came anyway. It was just a photo - uploaded from a phone to a website like any other day. A daddy and a daughter. Anyone who didn't know any better wouldn't think anything more. A daddy held his little girl - a daddy held his little girl for the first time in nearly seven months. The same little girl he heard cry through the speaker of a phone as she entered into this world. He listened from the battlefield 7000 miles away - two years earlier. The same little girl who had just had a birthday. And he was holding her, in the Nashville airport, surrounded by so many people who have become indifferent to moments as beautiful of these - he held his little girl. And the tears continued to fall.
This wasn't my soldier. This wasn't my child. And that didn't matter. We never become numb to these moments.
I asked for it. I did. I wanted to add pictures to the page - beautiful pictures that would express what my words couldn't. And goodness did they come. A few homecomings - the joy is always incredible. I believe that everyone should see - in person - a welcome home. There is nothing more infectiously joyous than those days. The reunions truly are like nothing else in this world - but that isn't when the tears started.
It was the last link - the one that said "Farewell" - that opened the door for that. And it was not simply sadness. I don't think anyone can understand this difference if they haven't felt it. If you just saw me you may interpret it as only sadness - maybe even agony with how much the tears flowed. No - it was not sadness. There was such incredible beauty in these images - of the gear so perfectly stacked in the straightest of rows. The images of the backs of families having last pictures taken. Of the soldiers - making me want to know so badly what was going through each of their minds. And you think how many fathers do those piles of gear belong to, and mothers, and daughters, and sons, and wives and husbands. How many do they each leave behind. And you see the weapons strapped to their bodies that become their lifelines, the heavy plates that they strap across their chests, the solid helmet that makes them all look the same. And while this is common place for those who wear these items and to those who watch them march away - it isn't "common". Something common couldn't evoke such emotion - and it does for those who love a soldier - it will every single time a video is shared of a child running to hug his daddy, or when a photo shows a mother kissing her baby girl for the last time in a long time. Every single time it will bring tears to my eyes.
But please do not take this for just sadness. I am so very proud and so very grateful to those who have the strength to kiss us goodbye and put on that helmet and strap on that vest and pick up their arms. Every tear that falls is indeed heartache - but it isn't a heartache you understand unless you live this. There is blood-curdling fear. Heart-wrenching dread. Overbearing stress. Of course we hold these things. But there is a beauty in the heartache when you realize how much love we must hold - love for a man or woman who will leave us (repeatedly). Love that must and will strengthen us for the journey. Pride that will give us chills, goosebumps, put a lump in our throat in the most challenging of moments. And it isn't just our love that must fit here. We carry their love for their families while they take with them their love for this country. Our hearts hurt because they hold so much. Of course we ache. Of course I will cry - not just for my soldier but for yours too.
There is so much love. There is so much beauty. There is so much pride.
Amazing what the heart can hold.
And our hearts will hold it all.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.