I sat last evening, chatting with colleagues, just before Cowley College’s annual awards banquet was to begin. Nearly every table in the Wright Room was packed with people: students to be honored, parents and guests, teachers and other staff members, trustees and administrators. Salads at every place, cheesecake at the ready and four buffet lines set to start. We were all ready for an evening of accolades and laughter, accomplishment and recognition.
Just five minutes before the ceremony was set to begin, I got a text from Randa: “Give me a quick call before it starts.”
I quickly excused myself and headed outside where I could get a good signal and not be surrounded by two-hundred-and-fifty people in animated conversation. At first, I couldn’t get a signal (thank you “America’s most reliable service.”) The screen showed Randa’s number dialing but there was no connection. I walked farther away from the building and tried again. Connection.
I don’t know if it was a weak connection or my hearing impairment coming into play but I couldn’t catch everything she said. I did hear “Sam… suicide bomber… Kabul…”
I don’t know that you would even have to know that Sam is my second oldest son to imagine the effect those words had. He is in his second deployment to Afghanistan, his third or fourth to the Middle East. Perhaps you’ve seen or read or heard by now about the bombing in Kabul yesterday that killed several people and injured hundreds.
Before I had time to ask or understand anything further, my chest began to crush my heart, my stomach clenched as if suddenly twisted into cable and my throat closed up like a clenched fist. I asked the question that is the first reaction of every parent, every spouse, every child, every sibling, every loved one, “Is he okay?!”
As it turned out, Sam is fine. When Randa started a sentence with “Windows were broken…” I thought Sam had been in Humvee that had run over an IED. But no, what happened was that the explosion broke windows and knocked pictures from the walls in the building where he was working but no one there was injured. All of the people in his work unit were fine.
Three of my sons are on active duty and all three of them have deployed at least once into the Middle East. All of them have taken fire of one form or another. I do not dwell on the possibility of phone calls that do not end as this one ended. I also know that car wrecks, construction accidents and falls in the shower can also result in similar calls. We live in a world filled with dangers and every moment that we breathe is one more than we are guaranteed.
I said goodbye to Randa and looked around at roses blooming under gray skies. I took a few deep breaths and headed back inside to enjoy an evening with a large group of good people. People who believe in love and faith and hope, who strive for excellence through service, who are raising their children and grandchildren to do good work, help one another and treat others as they would like to be treated.
I took a bit more notice of my food, my water and the people around me. I delighted in their company and in our camaraderie. I presented an outstanding student award on behalf of a chairperson who could not be there and introduced presenters from other departments. I joined in the applause and the recognition. And in the giving of thanks.