Easter vacation had begun, I had a good 6th grade term report card in hand and my mind was filled with multiple ideas of how I would use the forthcoming week of freedom as I walked home from school. Mom had told me she would be off doing errands, and I was to come straight home. I would be alone and in charge of the house for a couple of hours. I was looking forward to the moments of eating whatever I wanted out of the fridge, playing Atari or watching The Three Stooges or Little Rascals. Life could not be better for this 6th grade boy.
I found the key to the house, threw open the door and made my usual after school pit stop when sheer terror gripped my heart. I heard footsteps run across the living room floor, the front door open and slam shut. Wait a minute! I’m supposed to be home alone.
My heart rate sped up and a knot formed in my throat. I quietly opened the bathroom door and began tip toeing down the hall when I heard the closet door in my parent’s bedroom creek open and the phone start to dial (yep, no push buttons back then). The terror in my chest seemed to spread throughout my entire body as I slipped out the backdoor and careened over a four-foot ledge into a neighbor’s driveway (adrenaline was running rampant), choking back sobs with tears streaming down my face.
The fear and uncertainty that a robber invaded my home encompassed me and forced me into a dilemma. I was too scared to knock on a neighbor’s door to call the police and too scared to return home to get a closer look at the situation. After some intense silent prayers and what seemed like an eternity (about five minutes) of fighting with my decision, a motorcycle policeman came sauntering up my street. I hurriedly waved him down and told him of my plight. He called for backup, walked down my driveway, pulled the gun out of his holster and turned the corner.
Several police cars showed up, a couple more motorcycle police and the entire inquisitive neighborhood were soon center stage to the Smith family drama. My pulse was still in hyper drive when the front door of my house opened … and … my older brother was escorted out in hand cuffs.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to shout with joy or climb underneath one of the police cars. The huge wash of relief quickly turned into a new fear … my brother is going to kill me. The neighbors had a good laugh and one of the policemen said, “No harm, no foul. Hope you (to my brother) don’t mind my aging your life 20 years.”
I melted into a heap between instant heartburn and the hidden joy that my older brother finally got a little of his own medicine as he notoriously loved to scare me any way he could. (He denies to this day that he was trying to scare me, and you should hear his side of the story).
He must have felt a small twinge of guilt, however, as he ended up buying me some pizza that night. I don’t remember him trying to scare me ever again. In fact, through the years he was often very kind to me, and we look back and laugh about that day.
This is the same brother who was left for dead during an entire night in the bushes by a street in Argentina after a hit and run accident when he was serving as a volunteer missionary. This is the same brother who 24 years later met me at home and grabbed me in a bear hug after my deployment to Kandahar in the early years of Operation Enduring Freedom. He wouldn’t let go, and this time he was the one sobbing.
During this holiday season, amidst battling shoppers, deployments, forth coming inspections, exercises and the day-to-day fight to survive, I hope you take a moment to employ the leadership skill of stepping back from it all to reflect and bask in the joys of your life. Cherish your loved ones. Strengthen relationships that will last longer than your time in the Air Force. Broaden your perspective to that of a more long-term or eternal nature. Learn to forgive. Learn to say I’m sorry. Find joy in the journey.
Oh yeah, and don’t scare your little brothers.