Blearly-eyed and sleep-deprived, I stepped off the airplane exhaustedly just after five-am, expecting to be greeted by silence in the near vacant airport. Sure, it was the holiday season, but I didn’t expect to see many souls, let alone awake ones, occupying the many airports chairs when I stepped out of the stifling tube from our airplane and into the airport terminal.
There were hundreds, if not thousands of people; 80% were soldiers in uniform. It literally took my breath away to see such a massive congregation of folks everywhere I could see. The Starbucks kiosk was the first thing I encountered at my arrival gate, and the line was a long one, with jovial soldiers all clean cut and pressed, smiling to one another while shuffling sugary treats and sipping hot drinks with their comrades.
Everywhere I turned, uniforms were everywhere. I never felt more at home and safe – these were my people. This was my city. It felt good to be back in San Antonio again, but I didn’t expect what I saw next, let alone that it brought me to tears.
The USO was there, large folding tables stood up, happily pouring cups of hot cocoa and wrapping soldiers’ presents for them for their anticipated trips home. Hundreds congregated around, not a tired eye in sight. The holiday magic was alive! My once bleary eyes were now drunk with tears as I became emotional yet transfixed by the excitement going on all around me. The dark morning hour mattered not to a single soul in that airport, they were going HOME.
Home to mothers and fathers and siblings.
Home to families filled with presents and stories and emotions.
Home to hometowns and “welcome homes” and arms outstretched waiting after months of separation.
If I could have swallowed up that airport in my arms to hug everyone simultaneously, I would have. Instead, I wiped my eyes, I smiled as I walked, and dismissed my exhaustion to hurry to reach my most favorite destination myself, too.