I went to the operations officer and told him my situation. While it doesn't seem all that important, several hundred dollars was still a lot of money to throw away. I told him I didn't want to put anyone else in a similar situation, but I asked if it would be possible to push my start date back to January, where it was originally. He asked the usual questions: when was I traveling, where was I going, etc. Then he told me a story.
He had been in a similar situation. His leave had been approved and he had bought his tickets. He was going home. Unfortunately, a last minute situation arose and he was told he'd have to cancel his trip. He missed his family during one of the few opportunities he'd had in years. He was crushed.
He paused and looked up at me. At this point I knew I was missing Christmas. Looking back, this wouldn't be the first time (and probably still won't be the last). I thought I better start getting used to it. He continued, saying he had gotten hosed, even with tickets and papers in hand. He explained how he dealt with it, because as Marines (even though he was in the Navy) and aviators, missing important holidays came as part of the job. Then he said he wouldn't let that happen to me, this time.
In a cliched way, the Hallelujah Chorus sang. A very minor crisis had been averted. I learned a great lesson that day. Everyone has to face adversity. There are always situations where people get a raw deal. This is a given. But there are two kinds of people. Some people have the attitude, "it happened to me, so I'm going to make sure you feel the pain too." And there are those with a better, though more difficult attitude to foster and maintain. Those people say, "it happened to me and it wasn't right. I'm not going to let it happen to you."
Losing a few hundred dollars and a couple weeks with family doesn't really count as adversity. It wouldn't have been so bad. What's important is the lesson that I carry with me nine years later. The lesson I want to pass on to you girls. The lesson that I want to pay forward.
So you know, while in California, I got to pick out a diamond ring for your mom. I'm sure glad I got to go on that trip.