While flying back to Colorado from Michigan yesterday, I happened to sit beside an impeccably-dressed Air Force member named David, who, I soon learned from our small talk, was escorting the remains of a comrade killed in Afghanistan back home to his family in Colorado Springs. We talked a bit about that, and about the huge mortuary the military houses at Dover, Delaware, where David was based, before moving on to safer topics, like sports, but the reality of the situation struck home again after we landed, when David carefully reached beneath the seat in front of him and produced a plain wooden box with a shiny brass handle on it. This, I suddenly realized, was the airman David was bringing home.
There was also a small metal plate affixed to the box, which I presume carried the person's name, but I resisted the temptation to look closer and read it, fearing it might seem a ghoulish invasion of privacy.
I followed David out through the terminal and into a blazingly-beautiful summer day, and I noticed, as he made his way through the crowd, that no one took any notice of the plain wooden box with the brass handle he was carrying.