He said his name was Todd and that he felt at home in the Dallas Airport. We were wandering among a sea of men and women dressed in BDU’s. It was the middle of October, and I was loaded down with my guitar and a backpack full of music gear.
We had crossed paths in the terminal when he asked, "What do you do to carry one of those around?" He was referring to my guitar.
I replied, “I play music for a living. What do you do to carry one of those around?” I pointed to his camouflage backpack.
"I blow things up."
I wasn't sure exactly what to say to that. And as I looked at him in a loss for words, he offered to carry my guitar.
"You want to walk with me and carry my guitar all the way to my gate??"
He said, “Well, of course, we don’t just kill people.”
My heart fell. That's not why I had asked that.
I stumbled on my words, “I know…I know that’s not why you do what you do. What you do is really…hard.”
He shrugged apathetically. “It’s not that hard anymore.”
My words left me. I wanted to wrap him in a blanket of light and take the walled-up angst out of those blue eyes...those blue eyes that had their “coming of age” in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was younger than me in years, yet, with the toll of war, his eyes were older.
We talked about music and how we both play Tom Petty on the guitar. We talked about where he was stationed, his two deployments to the Middle East and his nicotine habit. I told him about my journey from nursing to music, about playing a very heartfelt show at Ft. Hood in '07, and about my childhood memory of catching a snake while visiting my Uncle at Ft. Riley.
When I gave him my card, I apprehensively said, “You can check out my tunes online, I don’t know if you’ll like them. They might not be your style of music.”
He replied, “You’d be surprised by what I like and what I listen to.”
My mind stopped. “You’re right. I don’t know.”
He walked with me to Starbucks, waited for me to feed my caffeine habit, and accompanied me back to the gate with my guitar in his hand.
In the space between our words, we walked side by side in silence and respect, honoring each other’s stories. I imagined that my carrying a guitar and backpack on tour must be much lighter than what he carries on his tours.
But really, what do I know?
I know that I’m grateful to have carried my guitar off the plane that day. It was a doorway for the guy with the camouflage backpack, crew cut and blue eyes to share his story with me, and for me to do the same with him.
On this Veteran’s Day, and in the trail of days before and after, I honor the stories of those who serve and have served in our military.
It is in the sharing of our stories that we come home.