International travelers know that long flights can be grueling. For those returning from military service abroad, travel time seems to stretch and slow as we make our way home. I felt these effects as I flew back from my third deployment to the Middle East. It was my second deployment in a year, and I could tell from my conversations with my wife and family, our separation was wearing on us all.
Our path back to Alaska had many stops and layovers. We waited in the passenger terminal in Kuwait City for six hours before departing for the long flight to Germany. After a long five hour layover, we boarded the charter flight back to Baltimore. We ate, slept, watched movies, walked the aisles as we made our way back to the US. By the time we landed, we stunk, needed a shave, some real food, and something besides an airline seat to sleep in.
We got off the plane, cleared customs, and picked up our luggage. On our way to catch our next flight, we heard a growing noise. Was that a band? We heard cheering and music beyond the secured area. We passed the double security doors to a path through a large crowd. And yes, there was a band playing patriotic songs, and people were hollering for us, cheering for us like we had won the Super Bowl. People hugged us; we got welcome home bags that included a calling card, treats, and even some hot food.
Afterward, we wondered if this how rock stars feel. We learned that these military homecoming celebrations are common at the Baltimore airport. After the events of the Vietnam War, many felt that things needed to change. Community members decided that they would show their love and support of the men and women in uniform, even if they did not support the politics behind armed conflicts. They accomplished their goal; we were overwhelmed by their genuine kindness and love.
This experience reminds me of another story of unexpected love and warmth. There were two brothers; while one stayed at home and worked hard on the family farm, the youngest asked for his inheritance early and went out into the world. The son who left eventually lost everything and became destitute. He realized that he had nowhere to go and no friends to help him; he reluctantly decided that he had no choice but to return home. He felt unworthy, and the only way he felt he could return was if he asked to be his father’s servant.
The young son returned home, and the oldest son was irritated and upset by the celebration. His father had not only welcomed him back but threw a feast to exceed all feasts—even killing the prized fatted calf. The oldest son confronts his father, “Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.” His father replies, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again, and was lost, and is found (Luke 15: 29-32 KJV.)”
I love the father’s response. He thought that his younger son was gone forever and was so thankful to have him back. The father tells the oldest son, “You have the farm.” Even the elder son’s bad attitude cannot ruin the occasion. He is overjoyed in the return and the family reunion of sorts.
Unexpected love and kindness, especially from a family member, can break down many barriers that pride and stubbornness create. As you have read this, have you had a particular person come to mind? Do not allow this spiritual prompting to pass. Go ahead, call, text, email, or write to them right now. It is never too late or early to show kindness and love to one of God’s children.
John Boston is a local physician, member of the Mat-Su Regional Hospital Board of Trustees, Colonel in the Alaska Air National Guard, father, husband, grandfather, and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.