Virginia. Late afternoon. A nice hotel near an airport.
The soldier carried his heavy bag over a shoulder. He wore his usual ACU jacket, patrol cap, and a reverse flag patch on his shoulder. He stepped off the hotel elevator onto the second floor, removed his cap to reveal a high and tight cut.
He wandered down the long hotel corridor, his tactical boots making dull thuds on the carpet.
Then he double checked the slip of paper in his hand which read: “Room 233.”
He repeated the room number to himself, noting the numbers on the passing doors.
It had been a long six months. He’d been on temporary duty assignment, away from his wife and daughters; away from everything. It gets lonely overseas.
He just arrived on U.S. soil this morning. Then he took two flights to get here. His family was supposed to be meeting him at the airport, but his plane came in a few hours early. So he thought he’d come here and surprise them.
He found the room. The number on the door was 233.
He double- and triple-checked to make sure it was the right room. The last thing you want after being absent from your family for the better part of a year is to surprise the wrong family.
The military man took a deep breath. He was feeling his age today. He’s not old, but he’s got high mileage.
He knocked on the door.
His heart was pounding in his throat. But nothing happened. So he knocked again. But he got the same results. Bupkis.
He leaned against the wall and scratched his buzzed head. Where could they be?
That is when he heard the elevator ding behind him. Then he heard voices down the hall.
He knew those voices.
They were decidedly female voices, the same ones he often hears in his sleep. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose tightly.
Then he heard the sound of quick footsteps, pounding on the floor. Feet were sprinting toward him.
He never got a chance to brace himself before the grown woman tackled him to the floor. It felt like getting hit by a zamboni. He fell backward like a poleaxed steer. He began laughing and coughing.
She was already kissing him. Her salty tears were wetting his face. Then he was re-tackled. Twice. By two small females who were miniature versions of the first. They leapt on him as though he was a backyard trampoline and shouted, “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!”
Meanwhile that same afternoon, over in Wyoming, there was a young woman who was busy creating pictures at her kitchen table. The girl is 14 years old.
For several months, she’s been making art and sending it to random elderly people in nursing homes. Attached to each piece of artwork is a note. Here are a few excerpts from past notes:
“Call me if you ever feel lonely.”
“You are loved. Please write back.”
“Dear So-and-So, whenever you feel bad, please call me.”
Recipients of her artwork actually call on the telephone. She averages a call per week. The girl sometimes spends two or three hours on the phone with these elderly strangers, chatting.
“Most of these people just really need to talk,” the girl’s mother tells me. “And believe me, my daughter gives them an earful.”
Since the pandemic began, the girl has created and sent approximately 1,500 pieces of art. Maybe more.
Take a moment and think about that number.
Lastly, that brings us to Caroline. She is your all-American baseball-team mom. Sometimes, baseball is the central feature to Caroline’s life. Her boys are obsessed.
But last year the local Little League season was cancelled. Suddenly, Caroline’s kids were ships without sails; boats without ports; vessels without rudders. Pick your own nautical analogy.
The pandemic roiled on and her kids’ active lives slowed to an imperceptible crawl. Soon, her sons were spending hours on video-game consoles, and they were becoming less social.
This is when Caroline came up with her grand idea. Her masterstroke.
A community treasure hunt.
But hers was no ordinary scavenger quest. Caroline spent an entire two weeks hiding clues throughout the local area. Clues which led to more clues. Which led to buried treasure.
The whole baseball team got involved, and the scavenger hunt mushroomed into a much bigger operation. Approximately 100 local kids and parents were involved, searching for buried treasure around town.
“It’s sorta what kept us excited,” says Caroline. “It gave us something cool to wake up and do.”
This year, however, baseball is back. Little League season has started. But people still remember last year.
And at every baseball practice, young folks still approach Caroline and thank her for making last year memorable.
“You made summer vacation really fun,” the children usually say. Then, hugs are exchanged. Real embraces. Because kids don’t do fake hugs.
So anyway, I know it’s been a long year. You don’t need anyone to replay the last few hundred days for you. You’ve lived through them. Which is why I’m not going to try to convince you this world is peaches and cream. That wouldn’t be realistic. And it wouldn’t be true.
Even so, I firmly believe that we are rounding the corner toward better times ahead, no matter what naysayers claim. Wonderful things are waiting for you and me. Beautiful, happy, joyous, meaningful, sacred, marvelous things.
And if you don’t believe me, just ask the guests in room 233.