What can you get for one $2 cup of coffee? How about a new perspective? This happened when I bought a soldier a cup of coffee through Cup of Joe. In a post about the program, I included my message that went with the coffee and his reply. It was this soldier that gave me a new outlook.
Dear Soldier, A cup of coffee is pretty small to be a present. So what I really want to give you for Christmas is the certainty that you are not forgotten. And to know how grateful I am for your service. I’m from NYC and whether my day is crazy good or bad, I get to live it in peace. Your hard work and sacrifice gives me that gift. Thank you for all you do. I wish you a merry, happy and safe holiday. Gina
Thank you so much Gina. It is Christmas Eve and guess what? You are the first person to give me a present And a cup of coffee is NOT too small to be a present. It is just fine. My name is SFC _____ and I’ve been in Afghanistan for almost 7 months. I have seen some things I hope to forget but I have some things I hope I never forget. As it is Christmas Eve I am just trying to be thankful to have a place like the U.S. to go back to with nice people like you who care enough to give me a cup of coffee. Thanks again, ____
I’ll call this soldier “Gibbs” for reasons that will soon become clear.
Gibbs and I became pen pals. It’s not always easy to think of things to write to a stranger. So I’d ask questions. Most people love animals so I’d ask about pets. Or, “did you ever break a bone?” Often, there is some funny childhood mishap involved. One time I asked Gibbs what his most incredible experience in the Army was. What was his favorite memory?
My stealth motive for asking that was to boost his morale. I figured recalling some positive experiences would be…..positive. I didn’t expect the stunning answer I received in return. It was emotionally powerful and the imagery he used… well, I felt like I was there. After I told him how amazing it was, I suggested he print out what he wrote and save it for his kids.
GIBBS: No. I don’t want to share it. In fact, I’ve never shared that with anyone before.
GIBBS: No one ever asked me that question before. Besides, I don’t want to glamorize war. I went to war so my kids and your Sofia won’t have to. No war for them.
ME: Understood. Big fan of peace. But what about when your kids are grown so they can know you better? You told me your dad was a Vietnam Vet. Is this story the kind of thing you wish you knew about him?
GIBBS: Yeah. I wish I would’ve known.
ME: So you’ll save it for them.
ME: Well, what about the Library of Congress? I think you can do it anonymously. They are collecting soldier stories.
GIBBS: Gina, you have to understand, in my real world I don’t talk a lot. With you…you’re not going run into anyone I know so, it’s okay. Nothing is going to bite me in the ass. But in real life, I’m like Gibbs (from the TV show NCIS.)
ME: Okay, so the one person you shared this incredibly moving story with is a total stranger you will never meet in real life?
As a woman, a mom, and a writer (I’m in a communications field!) this made me crazy. But it’s not about me, is it? This is about letting him chat or vent and just being supportive. So I dropped it. Knowing how much his privacy meant, I deleted the email. And I’ve never repeated what he told me. But his story is an indelible memory that I have the honor of carrying. In my heart, I hope he did share it with someone in his real world. Because I think he is worth knowing and I’m rooting for him in every way.
Along with the coffee and emails, I sent him a few care packages. One was “dinner and a show.” That consisted of 1 can of soup, some candy for dessert and a DVD of his favorite TV show, NCIS. I admit the DVD was more money than I normally spend on a care package. But they had some bad days and I knew he’d really like it so, I sent it. As his deployment drew to a close, he told me he wanted to pay me back for the DVD. I told him if he sent me money I would hunt him down and “put the hurt on him.”
GIBBS: Lol…Okay, if you won’t take money, what about this? What about my Unit patch that I’ve worn this whole deployment? It’s been through a lot and I’d like you to have it.
ME: Don’t you want to save that for someone in your real world?
GIBBS: I would like you to have it because you were the one who was here with me.
ME: Tell you what, I will accept it and hold it for you. If you ever change your mind you can have it back.
When it arrived I held it and thought, of all the places this patch has been, the most unlikely is probably the palm of my hand in my little corner of Manhattan. I decided to carry it in my wallet and use it as a “perspective check.” When I have one of those days where I get caught up by the small annoyances, a bad commute, someone rude in the checkout line…what have you, I can look at it and remember. I remember there are worse things and places. I remember to be grateful for the good in my life. And when I face the big challenges, I can look at it then too. I look at it and remember to have courage. Because I am holding proof right there in my hand that difficult times can be overcome. And I got all that with one $2 cup of coffee.
© Gina left the mall, 2012