I recently had a “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” experience while traveling to a client site. It was one of those days when the whole nation was plagued by flight cancellations, but for some reason I took it personally: I felt like something, somewhere, was out to get me.
I was at my wit’s end by the time I got to Atlanta. While I only needed one more flight to get to my destination, that flight, too, was delayed.
I decided to wait impatiently with the other travelers around the flight attendant’s station. (Apparently we all believed that if we looked inconvenienced enough, a plane would miraculously appear.)
It was then I saw something that redirected my attention. It was a young man, maybe mid-20’s, wearing jean shorts and a t-shirt. Robotic limbs replaced both of his legs and arms. He, too, was going to be on our flight. And unlike the mob of annoyed passengers, he took a seat and waited patiently.
The first thought that crossed my mind was that this man was a Veteran. He just had that look about him – short hair, a clean shave, and a purposeful neatness in his appearance. The next thought that crossed my mind was one of deep humility. Here I was having an internal complaint session about my bad luck when this young man had inconveniences far beyond my comprehension. His presence changed my perspective and attitude in an instant.
And in that moment, I walked away from the attendant’s desk to approach this young man. After confirming his service (he served in the Navy) I shared, “I don’t know what you did or what exactly happened. All I can say is that I’m eternally grateful for your service and the sacrifices you have made for our country.”
I didn’t want to embarrass him by asking too many questions, so I got up to leave. As I did, I noticed that he was attempting to grab something out of his backpack, which is a simple task for you and me (it certainly wasn’t for him). I asked if I could help. He looked up, smiled and politely chuckled as he said, “Thank you, Ma’am, but I’ve got this.”
And boy … did he ever.
The power of his presence and spirit will inspire me for the rest of my life. I’m making it a personal mission to share this story with as many people as I can. Thank you for forwarding it to your friends who would be interested in hearing how Veterans continue to “Lead from the Front” well after they leave active duty.