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.
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