On a Thursday morning ... hours before the sun broke the horizon ... I was shivering with cold and excitement in the backseat of a car that was speeding through the darkness toward Fort Hood. A Soldier was coming home.
Just yesterday ... my nephew was this skinny, cute little freckled-faced kid with tousled red hair and an inquiring mind ... always full of questions. Always trying to figure things out ... how they worked ... how to build it ...
From the day I learned that he was going to Iraq, I was filled with dread. When I learned that he was coming home, I could hardly contain myself.
He had been there for a year. His blood flows rich with all of the love and hopes and dreams for the future that my sister and brother-in-law have. And he was coming home.
I knew that I could not say a word to anyone when I learned about "the day" he was to arrive, because the enemy is watching ... and calculating. Family and friends have made grave mistakes announcing to the world when their Soldiers are coming home. Bombings have increased during those times.
By Thursday morning, after very little sleep the night before, I was beside myself. I had never been to a "Homecoming" ... so my anticipation level was over-the-top.
The dark morning air carried a wind chill factor in the negatives as we hurried into the huge tented area to await the arrival. I simply could not get warm.
Imagine, if you will, families huddled together ... mothers, fathers, wives, children ... all generations ... all colors ... but all sharing one thread of hope ... that THEIR soldier has his or her feet back on the ground ... safe ... out of harm's way once again.
Imagine hearing the announcement that the buses have arrived ... they are pulling up outside. All together ... as one ... the crowd rises to its feet, some standing on chairs ... all eyes riveted toward the doors through which the Soldiers would come.
They're here! The shout goes up.
Signs are held high in the air. Flags are waving as the Soldiers burst through the doors, "double-time" ...
Welcome Home, Soldier. The cheers roar through the massive tent.
Welcome Home, Daddy!!
Welcome Home, my sweet darling daughter ... my dearest husband ... my precious wife ... my son ... my little nephew who's all grown up ...
Welcome Home, Soldier!
Imagine the Soldiers ... tired eyes searching for loved ones. They've been gone for so long ... surviving in a place of terrorism and hate. They've sacrificed much. They've lost friends in battle. They are weary ... but right now, adrenalin bursts through their veins. They could lift a mountain. All they want to feel right now are arms wrapped around them ... the human touch once again. Love.
They right-face. The General speaks. He is a wise man. He understands their hearts ... their needs. So he speaks very briefly, addressing his Soldiers with respect and gratitude. Well Done, Soldiers.
Now go ... be with your families.
Love breaks through the air. Families seek out their loved one ... find their Soldier.
I stand back, taking it all in. Allow my sister and brother-in-law time to grab hold of their son ... to hold him ... to feel the warmth of his strong body. There are smiles and tears.
I feel totally overwhelmed in the moment ... watching the reunions taking place all around me.
I am so grateful to have been in this place. Quietly in my thoughts was the hope that every Soldier there had someone waiting in that huge tent ... waiting to wrap arms around him or her.
Not every Soldier comes home.
Not every loved one gets to experience what I experienced early Thursday morning. That ripple of tension ... the unity ... strangers becoming friends waiting together ... the cheering ... the sharing of an incredible pride ...
... and deep, deep gratitude ... because a Soldier has come home ...