Friday morning, a United States aerial refueling aircraft crashed in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. While this may have seemed like just another tragic news story to most, my husband and I watched the headlines in shock, pain, and overwhelming fear. For the small community that works with this aircraft, it was the only thing consuming our thoughts. It was the only topic of our conversations. It was the only prayer on our lips.
Before I left the military last year, I worked as a boom operator on one of these planes. The units are small and tightly knit. When deployed, a crew of three quickly becomes family, and I’m blessed to say I've gained several amazing brothers and sisters, and even a few step-dads, from my time overseas.
When you’re stuck in an airplane for over 10 hours every day with two other people and your survival relies on crew cohesion, you learn to appreciate their strengths and overlook the differences. You learn to be a team. Your pilot misses her husband and dog as much as you miss yours and as much as the copilot misses his wife and child. You certainly all miss trees, grass, and your own personal bathroom the same amount as well.
There are many bad days, but your crew always manages to get you through it. You each have your own job to do, but you’re always there backing your brother or sister up. Always. You travel the world, you have fun, you make friends, you learn, and you do this as a “tanker guy” (regardless of your gender). The community, past and present, is like a small town. If you don’t know someone, you know their best friend or one of their crew. More importantly, if you don’t know someone you make it a point to get to know them.
What I’ve seen in the 24 hours after the crash has been nothing short of beautiful. With a reignited sense of pride and camaraderie, we’ve reached out to one another and recognized that we are going to need each other. Every last member of the community has taken a moment to honor our fallen in his or her own unique way. Whether we've said a prayer, raised a toast, or, in my case, dedicated a yoga practice to our brothers, they're in our hearts today and always. We'll get through this, but it’s not because we're strong individuals; it's because we're a brotherhood.
I acknowledge that most of you reading this aren't “tanker guys,” nor have you been fiercely affected by this tragedy. That doesn't matter. The lessons I’ve learned or been reminded of apply to everyone, everywhere.
We can't thrive without support. A child won't thrive, a marriage won't thrive, and a community won't thrive without the support of others. Can we exist? Sure, but thriving and existing are vastly different ways of living.
The last thing you say to someone you love should always be “I love you.” This is a lesson from my mother. Even during angst-y high school screaming matches with my parents, we ended with “Goodbye, I love you.” Choose your words wisely, because no matter what you do or where you are, life is dangerous.
We can find something to love in anyone. It’s not our differences that make us human; it’s our similarities. Look for commonalities. Acknowledge them. All you have left to do is love.
Let people know you’re thinking of them. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t talked to them in years — just tell them! Call, write, email, text, write on their Facebook wall, show up on their doorstep, throw rocks at their windows ... it doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you do it.
Live the life you desire. You may not have as much time as you think. Be who you want to be and do the things you want to do ... today.
Try everything. When you travel somewhere new, remember that you may not be there again. Try new food, buy something local, and learn everything you can. I’ve tried a lot of interesting things in exotic places, and my “liked” column is way fuller than my “disliked.” This world is too full of amazing things to not try everything before you’re gone.
A daily practice of meditation will get you through the tough times. Start your practice now. It will pay off when you really need it.
Finally, be kind to each person you meet. You have no idea what their day has been like. You don’t know what or even who they may have just lost. Kindness and love is always the best gift we can give each other.