What is wrong with this picture?

Can’t tell?  Let me provide you with a little more context.  I snapped this photo with my cell phone on Friday night as the hour approached midnight and my flight from SFO had just pulled up to the gate at PHL.  The two dings had gone off and the pilot came over the intercom with the words we had all been waiting for over the last 6 hours on the flight:

“Flight attendants, disarm the doors.”

This is always the time that everyone immediately tries to stand, uncramp their bodies, and high tail it for the exit.  Even the people in the back seated by the window stand up, hunched over in their 2 x 3 foot personal space as if the very act of standing will accelerate the snail’s pace of those in front of them.  People are cranky, bleary eyed, and anxious to exit the flying petri dish they have called home for way too long.  Babies are crying.  We are all coalesced around the same goal:  To get the hell off the plane.

Yet, no one moved.  The hour was way late.  We were slightly delayed taking off because for some stupid reason they needed more time to load the baggage area.  But we sat there and waited without a sound or complaint. 

Immediately prior to landing, the flight attendant came over the intercom and asked that all the passengers please remain in their seats when we reach the gate.  A member of the US military was on board and he needed to fulfill a solemn duty prior to deplaning.

I wondered to myself how long this solemn duty was going to take.  I wondered, though I had a sense, what the purpose of the solemn duty was.  I assumed we would see someone in military garb exit the plane before the rest of us.  We didn’t.  In fact, we sat in our seats for less than a minute before the flight attendant gave us permission to leave. 

As I passed by the cockpit and got the obligatory “buh-bye” from the attendant, I asked what the solemn duty was.  The flight attendant confirmed my suspicions, that the soldier was escorting a fallen comrade home.  He didn’t elaborate and I didn’t ask anything further.  And then I remembered the delay in taking off as they finished loading the baggage area.  The fallen soldier.

I thanked the attendant, saying something stupid that fell terribly short of my sentiments, something like, ‘That was a nice thing to do.”

I drove home, arriving well after midnight to the sleeping family I was getting really sick of just a few days before.   I had bitched and moaned my way through this trip.  Long, crowded  flight.  Travel aggravation.  No hot water at the hotel.   Hectic schedule.  Work piling up.  I suddenly felt very humbled and ashamed as the obvious weighed heavily upon me.  I was not coming home in a box under the plane.

Sometimes all it takes is a minute of someone else’s reality to put yours in perspective.  For me it was the minute that we sat at the gate.

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