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Remote Runway Homecoming and A New York Reunion in Texas
While compiling stories for this book, I (Jane Cook) had the opportunity to travel from my home in the Washington D.C. area to Texas for speaking opportunities. Because I ...

Remote Runway Homecoming and A New York Reunion in Texas

While compiling stories for this book, I (Jane Cook) had the opportunity to travel from my home in the Washington D.C. area to Texas for speaking opportunities. Because I was sans family, I was not in my usual mom role on the plane. This freed me to do something I don’t often do: Talk with the stranger sitting next to me.

On my mind was this book. My flight was two-legged, with a stop in Memphis before final wheels down in San Antonio.

Even though the plane was the same, my seats were different for each leg. Both times brought special opportunities. I was able to sit next to someone who had a loved one who had served in Iraq.

On the first jaunt, I sat next to a woman who was returning home to Memphis. As we talked, I learned she was soon expecting an even better homecoming. Her stepson was expected to arrive home from Iraq within the next week or two. She told me how proud she was of him, how much he had grown up through his service in the Marines.

“He was just a kid when he went over there the first time,” she related.

Her stepson was not out of his teens when he went to Iraq as part of the invasion in 2003. She explained he had looked forward to returning in 2007, because he had grown up so much. Now in his early twenties, he wanted to share what he had learned with the guys who were young like he was when he first left.

Then she shared the frustration many military families experience. She and her husband knew he was coming home, but the window of his return was more than two weeks. Their son had contacted them, alerting them he was scheduled to return, but couldn’t tell them when or where. He wasn’t allowed to contact them any more until he was wheels down in the United States. They lived in an uncertain “hurry up and wait” mode.

When our plane landed in Memphis, she called her husband from the runway. He had wonderful news. Their son had just called him. He wasn’t yet in Memphis, but was in Maine.

This woman, who was traveling with a group of her colleagues, started telling them he was on United States soil.

I won’t forget the tears that welled in her eyes. She wasn’t crying, but her deep blue eyes were simply moist. Moist with relief. Moist with comfort. Moist with peace that returning home can bring.

The second leg of my trip from Washington D.C. to Texas in April 2008 brought yet another opportunity to witness a homecoming. I had about an hour in Memphis before flying to San Antonio. I pulled out a copy of my book, Stories of Faith and Courage from the Revolutionary War. I wanted to skim it, reflecting on my speech the next day.

The woman sitting next to me asked me about it. I explained the book was a devotional incorporating stories from the Revolutionary War. Not knowing her background, I simply shared that many of the stories have a connection to today’s military families, who, like our founding fathers, have given up their quiet lives to live loudly for liberty.

She then shared her story. A hospital administrative clerk, she was from Buffalo, New York. She had four children, three boys now in their twenties and a twelve-year-old daughter, who was traveling with her. Then she told of her excitement. On her way to the airport, she stopped by her son’s favorite pizza place. She bought him a New York style pizza and Buffalo wings. She wanted to make this reunion as special as possible.

She explained her son was in the Army and had been in Iraq. On his departure, he had prepared her the best way he could for his deployment.

“Mom, I know it’s hard, but I’m going over there to relieve someone else, so they can come back to their family,” he had said.

He returned from Iraq in 2007, but she hadn’t seen him much since he first arrived. He had found a civilian job was going back to work for the military at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

Her life had been affected by the war on terror in another way. She lived across the street from the former home of one of the Buffalo Six, a group of Yemeni-Americans who were convicted of providing support to al-Qaeda.

“I don’t understand how people who were born in this country and grown up here can become so hateful,” she said dismayed over her brush with terrorists in her own neighborhood.

We talked a little while longer. Later I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of her reunion with her son. I didn’t notice what she was wearing on the plane, but at the baggage claim I saw her taking pictures with her son. She and her daughter wore white T-shirts with big black letters that said, “I love New York.”

With some buffalo wings, a New York-style pizza, and a T-shirt, this mom brought her son a little touch of his old home to his new home in San Antonio. She understood the value of a home-style gift, one from the heart.


Thank you for the meaning of gifts, and how they make special moments even more memorable. Show me how I can give a gift, even simple kindness, to someone today.

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