Happy holidays; hope this letter finds you well. I've been reading your column for a long time and respect your advice, so I'm seeking some of it here. The brass tacks of it: I'm deployed in Iraq and I'm depressed as all hell. I would love nothing more this holiday than a card from my family or loved ones, something, anything, and here it is late December, and nothing. I try and talk to my family about this, but every time I go to bring it up I feel like a selfish ass or am reminded how busy everyone is. Help me out, man, am I being a selfish ass? Trust me, I can certainly take a yes and any advice you may have to see another view.
I forwarded your note to your family. Their response was rather surprising:
"How selfish of you!
"Sure, you are getting shot at, having bombs go off in your cafeteria, driving over explosive devices, having your deployment extended with no end in sight, blah blah blah. But don't you realize that we, too, face dangers every day? Who knows when the Internet connection could go down and the whole family can't log on! Who knows when the newspaper might not arrive, and somebody might have to drive to 7-Eleven and buy the paper -- and then: Are you still expected to give the paperboy a tip, or what?
"There are phone calls to make, Benjamin -- important phone calls to friends and not just to any friends either but to close friends -- friends of a kind of closeness that you and your buddies, with your silly risking your lives for each other, wouldn't know anything about! And there are gifts to wrap and give to each other -- did you think all these gifts we're giving to each other just wrap themselves? Cards and gifts. Stuff for each other. That's what we're busy with. Why haven't you received any? Maybe because you're way over there in Iraq. Do you know how far that is? Do you know how inconvenient it's been for us to have to look on a map to see where you are -- I mean a big map, the kind that goes beyond Rockaway Beach?
"Why did you have to go over there in the first place? Don't you think the world's problems would have worked themselves out eventually? But no. You had to go enlist, protect the country, be of service, live by a code of honor, blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda.
"Besides, Benjamin, how can we be thinking of you when you never drop by? Do you expect us to remember you exist when we don't see you for week after week? Now, if you were living next door like our junior life and casualty underwriter for Northwestern Life (you think life and you think casualty but this is life and casualty!) or pursuing a graduate degree in the metaphysics of silicone breast implants or trying to start up your own reality TV show like some cousins we know, maybe you'd be a little more in touch.
"But don't worry, we forgive you. Silly Benjamin, always trying to help. Anyway, we've heard it gets very hot there in the summer, but it's winter now, isn't it? Maybe they'll give you an extra blanket but don't make a pest of yourself. And for God's sake, no matter what you do, don't let them see you shivering in the cold the way you used to when you were a little boy!
Well, Benjamin, I just made that up. I thought it might make you chuckle, and I figured you could use a chuckle. But seriously I wanted to tell you that most of us over here are awed by the sacrifices you are making on our behalf. We are capable of making the distinction between policies we disagree with and our countrymen and women who are carrying them out. I know that's two ideas to hold in your head at one time, but we can handle it. So for you and all the other soldiers over there whose families are too busy this holiday season: We all love you and care about you back home, and we are deeply humbled by the fact that you're laying your lives on the line so that we can go on watching television, talking on the phone and buying stuff that doesn't make our butts look big.
We'll never be able to thank you enough, so, frankly, we probably won't. You'll just have to know that it's true: In our hearts, we appreciate it more than we can say.
Readers: Want to send this poor soldier boy a letter? Use that mailto link, or send to email@example.com via your own mail program, making sure "To the Soldier" is in the subject line. I'll forward your mail along to him sometime before midnight on Christmas Eve. That might cheer him up a bit, no?
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