I went to pick up a friend at the Atlanta Airport today. It always amazes me the mass amount of people that travel through this building in a day.
As I arrived a few minutes early, pear-scented air freshener hanging from my rear view mirror, I decided just to go on inside instead of waiting at the curb.
There is a long escalator from the tram to the baggage claim. If you are meeting someone, you stand at the top of the escalator, about 30 feet back behind a seriously enforced yellow line and wait.
I was there for only two minutes or so when a woman yelled, “Welcome home, soldier!” and then the crowd began to clap.
I clapped, thinking she was a bit too loud for my personal “public place” preference, but I understand her excitement over a family member or loved one returning home.
But as I stayed there, she continued. Apparently it is a service provided now, on a volunteer basis, for the soldiers. A welcome home, a hug from a sweet lady, the offer of a cell phone to call someone, a gentle leading in the direction of the luggage.
The first time was a shock. The second time, an investigation. By the third, fourth, fifth times- I was dripping tears on my book. To watch these family members see their soldier for the first time in who knows how long was a bit much on the emotions.
And you never knew when it was coming. There could be two trams with no soldiers, and then one tram with ten. And every time, family members would come running from amongst the crowd, usually weeping, and embrace the one who has just arrived. Rarely have I seen people so grateful to be home. So grateful to have made it home. So grateful to be picking someone up from the airport who somehow made it home.
It was a bit much for me. I didn’t see it coming.
So I provide this public service to you.
Should you find yourself waiting for someone in the Atlanta airport, there are men and women who have been serving our country returning through here. And their families love them deeply. And you will have to stand there and watch as they are appropriately appreciated for their hard work and sacrifice. You will clap, even if you don’t mean to. You can try to look away, but your gaze will be drawn back to the raw beauty of it all.
It will mess with your heart.
Consider yourself warned.