Just a teacher going home

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By Jeffrey Denning

It’s been just over one month since I came home from a year-long deployment to Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserves. Spending time with my wife and children is absolutely, well, celestial. But eventually work called. This time, I had to travel out of town briefly, which required a trip to the airport.

Often we, as a society at war, forget to pay tribute to the spouses and family members of those who serve our country. My wife suffered right along with me and she deserves medals, plaudits and awards for her courage and commitment to me and to America.

I wasn’t there to help her with the kids, the dog, the overflowing sewage, or the broken fridge and water heater. I wasn’t there to help with the dishes or the dirty diapers. I wasn’t there to tuck the kids into bed each night or to comfort them when their classmates said I was going to die in Iraq. I wasn’t there to comfort my wife during the three out-patient surgeries, or when she raised the children alone and took them to church by herself each week

When I left, our youngest couldn’t say ‘Daddy.’ When I returned, she could sing songs and speak in full sentences.

So, when my incredible wife called this week in a panic about my accident prone son who had gotten injured badly, I wanted to do everything I could to come home to help out. The kids need me; my wife needs me, and I need them.

In the midst of trying to get home I had one giant obstacle to overcome –– the airport.

It seems like nothing goes right at the airport when your really in a hurry to get home. After having my flight delayed and then cancelled, I was rebooked and cancelled and rebooked again.  Then I was delayed and cancelled again on another air carrier. Those who’ve been there know I’m not exaggerating.

After waiting several more hours, the flight home was cancelled once again. While waiting in a meandering line full of angry passengers trying to get booked on the very last flight of the evening, one irate passenger hollered at the airline customer service rep. I thought I might write about adult temper tantrums in airports. Supermodel Naomi Campbell reportedly spit, cussed at and fought with London’s Metropolitan Police, for instance, when she got yanked off a plane by them not long ago.

While wondering what I might write about for future posts, I struck up a conversation with a woman standing in line with me. Soon, a friendly conversation began. Her name was Helen.

Well Helen told me that she needed to get on that final flight out, to take care of her mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Helen had an appointment early the next morning with several people, including representatives from the hospice, who she anticipated taking care of her mother. I silently thought to myself that if the last seat on the last flight of the day were between she and I, I’d let her take it. I could wait until morning to fly home, as I didn’t have a pressing appointment.

In casual conversation, I mentioned that I had just recently returned home from serving in Iraq. Helen’s expression went rapidly to somber and sincere. She offered her hand to me, and with the most sincere kindness and gratitude she thanked me enthusiastically. Tears began to build in her eyes as she told me thank you repeatedly.

Helen said that I was the first person she had ever met who had served in Iraq. Shaking my hand vigorously, thanking me lavishly, she said that I definitely needed to get home to my wife and children. With overwhelming kindness she practically shoved me into the line in front of her. I only accepted her offer after she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“What do you do?” I asked her.

“Oh, I’m just a teacher,” she stated nonchalantly.

“Just a teacher? Just?” I paused for effect. “The job you have is incredible. I can’t thank you enough,” I said passionately, putting my hand over my heart. She went on to explain that she teaches first grade. I thought of my son and daughter and their elementary school classes.

Helen and I exchanged a few more brief words then departed. Fortunately, merely by coincidence, she was able to get booked on that last flight out and I was rebooked for a morning flight.

I felt so honored that a total stranger—a teacher—would offer up her seat not to me, per se, but to a mere stranger who had served in Iraq.

Nostalgically, I recalled my elementary school teacher. One in particular I remember: Mrs. Talbot. It was in her Second Grade class where I stood with my hand over my heart, staring inquisitively at Old Glory, and the beautiful stars and red and white flowing stripes, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

I’m proud to know that there are still teachers, mothers, and passengers of all kinds flying on airplanes, who would voluntarily give before taking, and whose examples of goodness and kindness is not only contagious towards me, but to the next generation.

The safety and security of any civilized and decent society rests in the bosom of those who love and give without expecting anything in return—who want freedom and would fight to defend it, as a mother would for her child.

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