Thursday, March 25, 2010

Stand at attention

Yesterday I found myself sitting near Gate 31 at Reagan National Airport, people-watching and listening to Madonna on the iPod and generally enjoying the scene. (Airports? Totally my thing.)

I'd booked a last-minute flight out to the Bay Area for a job interview in San Francisco later this week and was anxious and excited as I waited near my gate, sandwiched between two men in suits on their cell phones, carry-on bag at my feet. About 20 minutes later, after I'd witnessed a guy across from me eat three bananas in a row and start to pull a large bag of apples from his backpack, an airport employee came on the intercom.

"Just to let everyone in Terminal C know, a plane will be landing soon at Gate 30 full of WWII veterans who are traveling to DC to receive their medals of honor. Please come to Gate 30 and help us greet our veterans!" she beamed through the mike.

I looked around, interested and surprised. I'd never heard of anyone getting this kind of treatment stepping off a plane unless it was a private jet and that person was the President. Or Madonna. I shut off my iPod and watched as a handful of people around me stood up and made their way over to Gate 30, ready to greet these aging protectors of our country.

I'd just started to get engrossed in the next chapter of the book I was reading and so I paused. I actually paused, wondered if I should get up, stand and wait for them. For a split second the thought crossed my mind that there was no point in me being over there because those from other gates would be a crowd enough. The idea that I couldn't be bothered to dog-ear the page I was on, pick up my carry-on and stroll over to Gate 30 to greet these men who went to Hell and back to protect the world I live in now was disgustingly selfish. My grandfather fought in WWII. So did Roger Sterling. And I refuse to be that person -- the one who's just too important to stand for others when credit is due. Or stand for anything, for that matter. There were plenty of those around me anyway who remained seated.

So I tossed my book in my bag, picked up my things and waited with the throngs of others amid the flag regalia and balloons at Gate 30 to applaud and cheer for the elderly men that stepped through the open doors, wearing WWII pins and broad smiles as they slowly walked past us and shook our hands. It was so cute I'll admit: I almost cried.

When I returned to my seat I began to wonder: How many times in our life do we fail to stand at attention? How many times do we let opportunities pass us by because we're lazy, scared, or complacent? How many of us remain seated because it's the easy thing to do. The others can stand, we think. And so we let them. They can do the work for many, I suppose, but they can't do the work for all.

How many missed opportunities have there been at some point in all our lives -- missed career rungs, missed relationships, missed memories -- because the paths seemed too daunting. Required "too much" from us mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually. After all, it's easier to sit than stand. Easier to stay quiet than speak. Easier to consume than create. Easier to say "no" and remain indifferent, refuse to face the challenge when a marriage takes effort, a job goes stale, a circle of friends dwindles. Instead of working on the marriage, finding a different employer, or being open to new friends, it's easier to give up. Let the relationship fester or divorce. Stay at the job and complain about it. Allow the loneliness of your social life to consume you without any attempt to fix it. Stay helpless. Embrace resignation.

Maybe it's time more of us stand at attention. Learn to say "yes" instead of "no". Face the challenges in our lives instead of shirk from them. You cannot accomplish all the things you want if you remain seated like a side character to a life you have one shot at.

So stop making excuses. Stop being afraid, or complacent, or lazy. Easy is an illusion. Stand up.


Mandy said...

Crystal, I LOVE this post! In fact, it's very timely for me too as I'm working on a post now regarding something similar -- natural talent vs. determination and hard work. And just yesterday I had a conversation with a good friend of mine regarding being a proactive person in society vs. just being lazy and waiting for others to show you the way. I'm going to finish my post and then link to this entry. So true! And I'm so glad you stood at attention to honor those men. They deserve it! And I totally would've cried because I'm a sap like that. Good for you! We all need to stand up more. :-)

Maritza said...

Awesome post. Couldn't have said it better if I tried. =)

I am curious, though - was there a crowd there to greet the vets with you?

Best of luck to you for the SF job!

Bucksome Boomer said...

Your story did make me cry. How wonderful for those veterans to get recognition after all these years.

Tracy said...

What a beautiful post...THANK YOU!

Anonymous said...

Way to go, you made me cry!

There's something about elderly people that gets me every time.

Or maybe it's military? I was practically bawling on our flight Christmas eve when they asked everyone to remain seated to let the in-uniform military off first, and as they filed down the aisle, everyone clapped and cheered. I was a total goner.

Thanks for sharing this :)

AuntBT said...

What a great post!! Thank you for standing up for the veterans and giving them support. Also, thanks for the reminder to get up and live, because it is easy to just sit and stay.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post! It made me proud that I follow your blog. Thank you for taking the time to write about such a beautiful, but special time!

me in millions said...

Soo nice! A friend of mine volunteers with Honor Flights which sounds like it might have been the organization that did that flight. They also have people who play instruments play patriotic music when the vets get off of the planes. I only wish that my grandpas were still alive so they could experience that.

paisley penguin said...

Love it and kudos to you! I bet those men were so thankful and happy to see such a reception.

BTW - good uck on the interview!

Andi said...

Thank you for this inspiration today, I totally needed it! :)

Andi said...

ps. have a great interview!!!

bobocela said...

This is a fabulous post, Crystal. It's so true and I can relate it to many aspects of my life. I've done it before the ... "why volunteer when there are so many others doing it" ... it also reminds me of the starfish story when there was a boy walking down the beach picking up starfish stranded on the beach; an old man asked the boy why he wasted his time as there were way too many starfish he could never save and it wouldn't make a difference; in reply the boy picked up another starfish and threw it back into the ocean then turned to the old man and said "made a difference to that one" ... even the smallest acts can have a HUGE impact on someone or something, don't run away, embrace every opportunity.

The Depressed Yogi said...

Love this. Love you. P.S. - I would've cried!

myprettypennies said...

I'm a bit late in commenting, but I LOVED this. Seriously, it was exactly what I needed to read today.

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