He had a standard issue camouflage bag. When he hoisted it into the overhead bin you could see he was nervous. He sat down next to me accidentally dropping his phone and tickets into my lap because his hands were full. “I’m sorry,” he said. “No worries let me take that,” I said. “Thank you,” he said handing me his barely worn dress hat while searching for his seatbelt. When he found both straps I noticed he stared at the buckle for a minute. His hands were shaking. The guy across the aisle was watching so I discreetly helped him buckle-up. “Thank you Mom—I mean Ma’am,” he said blushing. “They’re not like car seatbelts so it’s confusing,” I said trying to reassure him. “This is only my second plane trip.” “Was your first coming to basic?” “Yes Ma’am.” “Are you headed home?” “Yes Ma’am.” “When did you graduate?” “Today.”
“I bet your Mom is going to be happy to see you.”
“Yes Ma’am, I can’t wait. Basic training was easy but not being home for the holidays was really hard.”
“I bet,” I said trying not to get choked up. “Can I ask how old you are?”
“You could be my son,” I said.
“Yes, I have a boy that’s 18 and one that’s 20.”
By now his hands had stopped shaking. Distracting him seemed to be working so I decided to stick with it. He didn’t have anything to read or music to listen to.
I started with the basics like where he was from, went to school, etc. He seemed eager to tell me everything about his life.
When we hit some bumpy air and the flight attendants had to stop beverage service his hands started shaking again. Having run out of generic questions I decided to get more personal.
“So, why did you want to join the Marines,” I asked expecting the question to take some thought. It didn’t.
“We’re first to fight,” he said.
“Really?” I said startled by his response.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he said. “I have to be first.”
“Even if it costs you your life?”
“I bet that’s hard for your mom to handle,”
“Yes Ma’am. We can’t talk about it.”
“I bet. You understand why though right?”
“Of course she is,” I said smiling.
The air grew smoother and our conversation shifted to some of the less intense aspects of basic training such as what he liked and didn’t like. The dirt in his ears he wasn’t sure he’d ever get out made me laugh.
I wanted to put my arm around him by this point but that would have been weird. We’d bonded though and the Holy Spirit kept nudging me to say something more.
The door was opened when he said, “Thank you for talking to me Ma’am. It feels good to talk to someone.”
“It’s the least I can do. Thank you for being willing to take a bullet for me. I don’t know how to handle a rifle but I’ve always been first to pray for my boys so could I do that for you?” His eyes filled with tears. “That’s the best I could ask for Ma’am—thank you.” “No, thank you,” I said. “You reminded me of something today.” “What’s that?” “One of my boys is like you. Being first to fight is really important to him. Not in the military sense—it’s more about living on the edge. His passion is both inspiring and terrifying for me. I always catch myself trying to tame it when I shouldn’t. I need to be like your mom and just let him be him.
“Yes, Ma’am you do,” he said knowing he was right.
Later, walking to my next gate I pulled my phone out of my pocket to send a message. The penny I’d found earlier in the day was stuck to the face. It was shiny and new like the Marine I’d met. It reminded me that the world needs warriors of all kinds and wanting to be out in front isn’t necessarily about ego often it’s about courage.
For those with it in abundance asking them to play it safe is about you having a smooth flight not them. Faith and risk are inseparable and if someone isn’t willing to be first to fight, some battles will never be won.
Apathy is a greater threat to a mother’s son than passion. The history of God’s people is a not a record of God trying to tame their courage it’s a lesson in trying to inspire it. A few brave men are what He wants because in the end “oorah” and “amen” probably mean the same thing.