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  • Arriving at the gate for a flight to Seattle a couple years ago my husband and I were surprised to see all the passengers in the boarding area standing facing the floor to ceiling windows which overlooked the tarmac. When we enquired we were told a fallen Marine was being carried home on our flight. We joined the crowd and gazed through the window as all the ground personnel in their orange fluorescent safety vests assembled below to pay their respects. There was a surreal silence in the waiting area, normally bustling with folks coming and going, announcements of arrivals and departures and chatter of the passengers.  

    A flag draped baggage cart drove up with the remains of the Marine in a large heavy box marked "Handle with Extreme Care". The escorting Marine saluted and ground personnel stood with hands over their hearts as the box went up the luggage conveyor and disappeared into the cargo hold. Up in the boarding area, we all stood quietly, respectfully, many of us with tears streaming down our faces.

    When we boarded the plane, a hold up in the line had me standing beside the seated Marine escort who was staring straight ahead. I looked at him, he glanced my way and we exchanged barely imperceptible nods-- minuscule enough to accommodate the enormity of the reason for this emotional acknowledgment. There were other military people on board and I overheard one of them say the young fallen Marine was twenty years old. 

    Our flight was three and a half hours, enough time for people to turn their thoughts back to vacation plans or business agendas, but there seemed to be a clearly discernible difference in the energy on the plane. To me personally it felt as though we were all connected -- connected to each other, to the young man below us, to the grieving family awaiting their loved one, to other Marines and service personnel in far off places. The blatant presence of human suffering, it seemed, had awakened us to our commonality.

    After touching down in Seattle our pilot, his voice cracking with emotion, made a brief announcement and asked us to remain seated as the Marine was taken off the aircraft. The entire plane was quiet as the passengers watched the ceremony below--  there were seven or eight Marines and the assembled ground personnel but also, now, a mother and a father who had come to take their child home. 
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