During a recent trip to Texas to celebrate my second son, I found myself part of a very raw & human experience in the Nashville airport. It’s been an incredible year full of powerful, emotional, and life-changing moments for me and it seemed only fitting that my last post of the year shared this one.
I’m struck by the awkward bittersweetness of the Nashville airport. Not so much the airport itself but the sensory contents within it. It is an orchestration of sounds composed of Fleetwood Mac playing over the intercom, in the little wine bar I’ve tucked myself into, married to the live performance of Tennessee Whiskey by some young and hopeful musician playing in the crowded gateway. All of it conducted by the airline attendants calling out names and numbers that mean absolutely nothing except to the majority of people barely listening. The scent of a thousand nations wafts around me: blended aromas of coffee, luggage, perfumes, baked goods and body odor. The sights are as intricate as a Monet if you know what you are seeing. Tired mothers with disheveled hair and formula stained blouses, broken-hearted soldiers checking their phones for reminders that they are still loved and never forgotten, well-pressed businesspeople vigorously preparing for that next high-level meeting, traveling vagabonds going somewhere and nowhere all at the same time. The entire sprawling space filled with passengers moving against each other in hurried, anxious, currents-a chaotic flow of humans all enthusiastic to get to or away from someplace, someone, something.
And just beneath the physical display of sights, sounds, and smells, there is the hum of partially hidden emotion lying just beneath the surface.
I can see slivers of confusion and fear on the faces of the eighty-five-year-old woman sitting in the wheelchair praying that she’s not left behind when the plane departs. I can see the anger and sorrow on the father’s face as he puts his children into the hands of a for-hire guardian to fly cross country back to the woman he once vowed to be with until death.
I can also see her.
She had been sitting in front of me on my flight to Nashville. She was sobbing when the pilot announced that we were dutifully carrying a soldier home for burial and that this brave young man had family on board. I had wondered if that were the case when I saw the two dress uniforms soberly walk onto the aircraft.
I heard her say, “He’s my son” in ragged whispers to the woman sitting next to her. I know that grief. It’s horrific and raw and too precious to share with the general public. I said a prayer for her and wiped away my tears before turning my attention back to the poignant perspectives of Brene Brown.
As we arrived at our gate and she stood, I couldn’t help but stare. She couldn’t be but just a couple of years older than me still she seemed so young. Too young for this kind of pain. Her blonde hair was hanging in limp strands around her face and her shirt wrinkled. There were remnants of mascara around her eyes, but they pointed to a day of devastation rather than one of glamorous travel. She was pretty, but it was hidden behind a mask of sadness that I wanted to wipe away with a soothing warm washcloth. All too soon she was leaving the plane with the soldiers in full dress ahead of the crowd and was gone.
Dear God, bring her peace.
It was the only prayer I could think of at that moment.
Twenty minutes later I walked out of the women’s restroom looking for a place to get something to eat before my next flight and saw her seated alone at the Vino Volo wine bar in my concourse.
Stop and love her.
It was just an impression. A gentle but powerful pull on my heart. I should say that I am not the type to approach strangers in an uncontrolled environment without cause. But the direction of the Holy Spirit was so incredibly clear that I was a little afraid to dismiss it.
As my feet moved toward her, I struggled to find any words at all. The only thing I could say to her was “Hi, my name is Brandi. I was on your last flight. I lost someone too.”
And we both began crying again.
It was only a moment before she asked me to sit with her and I learned quickly that her name was Melanie and that her son, Dustin, was twenty-four years old when he died in combat. She was in the process of taking him home to South Carolina. She was a single mom and Dustin never had a father. He was her only child, and now she was all alone. She wasn’t entirely sure how her baby boy was killed, but Dustin would be receiving a Purple Heart. My own experience told me that this was probably not the honor that either one of them was expecting when he joined the Army.
We each had a glass of Chardonnay and a small meal as we sat in the awkward silence in precisely the manner you might imagine of two strangers unified by loss. When the muffled numbers of her next flight were called, she placed her napkin on her plate and said “That’s me. I have to go.”
I wrote my name and email address down on a napkin, and as I slid it across to her, she grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “Thank you. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through the rest of this trip.”
I asked her how I could pray for her right at that moment and she said “Peace. I need to find peace.”
With my hand placed tenderly on hers, I prayed for Melanie. I asked God for peace and healing and tenderness to fill her and surround her. And then, almost as quickly as I said ‘Amen’ she was gone.
I’m still sitting here. I’ve finished my wine and my food and have blown my nose more times than I can count now. At this moment, I’m pretty confident that my eyes and mascara now mirror hers, but it’s ok. I’m typing it all out on my laptop as fast as my fingers will translate for my memory. I want to hold on to that encounter as much as possible. That moment when the world wasn’t so big, and grief was not so scary, and Melanie and I weren’t so alone. A moment when two strangers met in a small corner of the kingdom to walk through life together in the briefest but most beautiful of ways.