Coffee And A Serving Of Perspective

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.

The question

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.

ME:  Why?

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.

Unit Patch  "Big Red 1"

© Gina left the mall, 2012

180 thoughts on “Coffee And A Serving Of Perspective

  1. It’s easy to forget how something so small can have such a large impact. I watched my husband come to tears on Skype this past weekend when he (finally) got his box of Christmas ornaments. I hadn’t just gone out and bought new ones to send him. I had picked out ones from our own home. I had gone through and carefully selected ones I knew would mean something to him, ones I knew he would recognize and of course, there were a few new ones in there. One from each of us, but it was the ones he recognized that will stay with him. We bought a set of “break resistant” icing ornaments years ago. These things ended up being so fragile that they break falling less than a foot onto plush carpeting, so you can understand the nice laugh we had when he opened the box and those stupid things are still in one piece LOL I think having those pieces of home will help him this first Christmas away from us. 🙂 I had no idea such little pieces of glass and plastic could cause such a fuss in a grown man.

    • I’m not surprised in the least that these resilient little pieces of plastic and glass had such a powerful effect. I bet they stick out from his current décor in a great way, giving him a “moment of home” every time he looks at them.

      Yes small things can make a big impact. It doesn’t take much to be there for each other. To build one another up in a moment of need. In fact, sometimes all it takes is a few ounces of coffee and some kind words from a stranger ☺

      • I wanted to tell you as a RET. SGT from Ft. Riley (home of the BIG RED ONE Patch this SFC gave you) Thank you for taking the time to care about a soldier and in case you didnt know Ft. Riley is located out side of Manhattan Kansas. O

  2. Thank you so much for continuing to share your experiences. I love reading your blog… it always inspires me to do something 🙂

  3. Very inspiring. On TV we always talk about how much we care about our soldiers/veterans. It’s moving that people like you actually do that which we all talk.

  4. Ah, my fiancé has left the Army this month. He’s back to being civilian for a week now, but I will always have high regards to the soldiers who were brave enough to leave their family behind in order to bring peace to their nation. Very nice post.

    • I have high regard as well. Please tell your fiancé I thank him for his service. I’m also grateful for your part as well supporting him. I hope he’s having a smooth transition back to civilian life and congrats on your upcoming wedding!

      • You have my word, I will let him know. He’s served seven years in service, and deployed twice to Iraq. I’m thankful that he was able to return to his family in one piece.

        Thank you, Ms Gina! 🙂

  5. Awesome post! Thank you for sharing it. Just as you look at his patch and it reminds you to be grateful as you face day to day issues, you gave GIBBS courage to face his day to day issues. That’s HUGE and I am sure he will never forget you and your emails.

    • Thank you! I’m grateful for any way I made difference in his deployment. It’s kind of humbling when you realize the impact we can have for each other. Even for someone we don’t know…and from thousands of miles away.

  6. As a former soldier I can tell you that one of the things that kept me going were letters from home. This was 20 years ago mind you and we didn’t have email or the internet on the base, at least not that I had access to. But a letter from home always reminded me that there actually was a home (it was easy to forget sometimes) and gave me a connection to it. The life of a soldier can be a lonely one, and to know that a friend had held that paper in his or her hand and folded it and put in the envelope to mail it was a powerful connection, at least to me. I even had a penpal, a lovely girl from England that I still have contact with to this day. I think I can speak for many soldiers when I say that something as simple as a cup of coffee, or a letter, mean much more than you can possibly realize. They are reminders of what was left behind, and more importantly, what is waiting when you finally come home. Well done!

    • It really is wonderful that the simple things can have such an impact. So many troops have told me that mail call is like Christmas morning for them. Your note helps explain why. I’m happy you had these connections. And I’m grateful for your service.

  7. This is really a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. It’s amazing how the smallest steps, gifts, or thoughts can mean so much to someone and even change the world!

  8. Gina,
    First of all, let me say congratulations on being “Freshly Pressed.” And second, I woudl like to say thank you for taking the time out of your day to help someone else. We need more people like you in this world. I’m going to follow your blog.
    Thank you for a wonderful, inspiring read!

  9. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! I really enjoyed your story and was touched by how your act of kindness made such a difference. How were you put in touch with him to start with? I’d like to reach out to someone also. I think it’s a great idea (understanding that not everyone will respond).


    • Thank you so much! FP was a wonderful surprise. Although I am very behind in responding to comments 🙂 How Cup of Joe works- you choose how many $2 cups of coffee you want to send (you can even do just one) and write a message. The coffee is than randomly given to any troop that signed up for the program. They usually write a thank-you note back. There’s an option to be pen pals. If you both opt in, there you go. I really think it’s a wonderful program!

  10. This was beautiful. I really love the idea of a ‘perspective check’ – it’s something I’m going to strive to do from now on. I’m trying to mould myself into a better person, and WordPress is a way for me to see life through another lens, and gain from a dose of perspective like this, and maybe give back in my own small way. This was indeed a serving of perspective. Thank you for sharing this with us, Gina.

    • I think it’s great that you take advantage of the many voices on WordPress. That leaves you open to all kinds of insights. And I’m glad you like the “perspective check.” It really has helped me many times.

  11. I love your post. I will say that my husband loved getting his cup of joe when he was deployed. His voice was “lifted’ when he called me and told me that someone besides his family actually was thinking of the troops. Thank you for helping others understand that the troops/soldiers need more people to understand what they go thru. There are many stories to be told…yours is one that can help others understand and help soldiers. For that, I will raise my cup of joe to you.

    • I can only imagine what that ‘lift” meant for both of you. A small thing but, not small at all. And one of my goals with this blog is to help close the divide between military and civilian worlds. So I was very moved by the last lines of your note. Thank you so much for that and more importantly, I thank your husband for his service and I’m grateful for the sacrifices you make as well.

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  14. This is so touching and I am so glad that you told this story. Its amazing how something as small as a cup of coffee can lead into such a powerful friendship. You are so lucky to know such a hero.

    • Thank you! It is amazing that something so small could wind up being so meaningful. I’m grateful and lucky for this experience. What I especially like is that we all have this power– to launch kindness into the world. Small is doable 🙂

  15. first, congrats on being FP! second, thank you for sharing. we all need to be reminded every now and then, that there are people out there who make our lives a lot easier, in Gibbs’ case, safer 🙂 God bless!

    • Caring about one future soldier takes heart. Caring about so many…well, I can only imagine. I tried to quickly search for some other soldier stories that I thought might bring some comfort but nothing was exactly right. I’m hoping maybe there are some active duty soldiers or vets in your town that you can speak with. Tell them you’ve got a lot at stake here and, while you know there are dangers, you need to know the good parts, what they love most, what they wouldn’t trade for anything. If possible, see if you can talk to other military family members. You’re about to join their ranks and I bet they have all kinds of advice.

      Your loved ones are about to serve. And you will serve too by supporting them and what you sacrifice. I thank you all and wish you the best.

  16. I absolutely loved this story, and plan to sit down with my family to night to gift some Cups of Joe. As a coffee lover, I can appreciate how a single cup of coffee can set/change the mood of the day. Thank you for sharing.

    • Mitchell, that is simply awesome! And think of the ripple effect. As a military wife commented earlier, “His voice was “lifted’ when he called me and told me that someone besides his family actually was thinking of the troops.” That’s one strong cup of coffee 🙂

  17. Gina, I know “Gibbs” appreciated your communication with him while so far from home. I often think i would like to do something like this but just am unsure how to get started. It is amazing the commitment the men and women who serve make for us. In essence they put their lives on hold at home while they try to execute the sometimes impossible orders that politics create.

    Thanks firstly for sharing this interaction, it is a great reminder that we should be thankful for the troops. Also, i admire your promise to not share his personal story as it seems it is certainly worth sharing to show more of “Gibbs” character. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed as it means I can now follow you!

    • Joe, never worry about how to get started. I come from a military family and will tell you that our troops enjoy any little gesture you make. It sticks with them. Now, I don’t speak for Gina, (she will do that in a little bit when she has a chance to catch up) but she just this morning wrote a beautiful peace on “The Plan”.

      This is what she wrote:
      The Plan

      1. Do what you can

      Care packages and adoption are awesome. But what is also true is that little things mean a lot. A single cup of coffee or a postcard can lift spirits too. I think what matters most is that our troops have irrefutable proof that they are not forgotten. That they are not out there alone. So anything you choose to do is meaningful and welcome. Whatever time you have or effort you can give is perfect.

      2. Find a way to do it

      There are a lot of great organizations out there. I have a page on my blog with the ones I’ve worked with. Along with their links, I include “What they say about themselves” followed by “What I say,” which is my personal experience. There are also some reader reco’s. I hope you find something there that is right for you. The page is called Ways To Make A Difference.
      (scroll to the top of the page and you will find it)

      • ollie204,
        Thank you for giving Joe the perspective from a military family member! And for giving him a timely response! I am a little behind 🙂

        I think it’s wonderful that you know and appreciate what our troops endure. As ollie204 mentioned, any little gesture is warmly welcomed. The Plan I wrote was a guest post on Buoyed Up While I was addressing these wonderful Navy families, I think The Plan holds up on land as well as sea 🙂

    • Hooah!! Thank you so much!!

      *For readers that don’t know Big Red One- It’s the nickname for the 1st Infantry Division. They have a proud rich history and this Unit patch is one of their own. The 1 is usually red. However, in combat, colors are not used. Instead they use the “subdued” version that is pictured in my hand.

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  19. You have been truly blessed and given a huge responsibility. You are a very lucky woman indeed to have bought a simple cup of coffee. As a veteran of both peace time and war time. I once received letters “To Any Soldier”. I , unlike your, friend did not know how to respond at first. I do remember writing back and forth to a couple in California. We began with simple things and pretty much left it at that. However, that small gesture of a simple letter in my case or a simple cup of coffee means much more than the letter or the coffee. When you are over there it is a welcome thing to feel normal if only for a minute or two. Feeling or forgetting your surroundings for a few to drink that cup or write a letter is like discovering an oasis on a desert trek..

    You , of course , have learned this by buying a simple, a small $2 cup of coffee for a complete stranger. In the course of that action you have been given a great gift in return and a great honor which is the real reason you keep that patch so close. I am now a veteran of many years and like your friend and the character “Gibbs” , I am quiet by nature and rarely share my stories from my time in service.

    I hope that you continue in giving “small gifts” because , as you have found out, you never truly know how big that small gift really is!

    • Thank you for your service! Your note confirms what I have been told by other troops. A Vietnam Vet said a letter can transport you. Troops from our current conflicts said mail call is like Christmas morning for them. And it seems a few kind words with coffee has this power as well 🙂

      I do know his gift is a great honor. I will always keep it close. And I will continue to do the small things I can.

  20. My neighbour in Canada is a soldier. He’s really nice but isn’t very talkative. My grandfather fought 4 years in WW1 and he never talked much either. Instead, he preferred silent, long walks together. It must be rough living through silence and solitary thought. It’s nice a $2 coffee bridged worlds with your friend.

    • I imagine it is rough at times. That may be one reason why Troops have such a strong bond with each other. They don’t have to talk, they just know. A Vietnam Vet told me everyone wants to know what it was like and that all the questioning was emotionally exhausting to deal with. So it is very nice that a $2 coffee had the power to bridge worlds 🙂

  21. I love how that single cup of coffee led to such enriching and intimate conversation and a new perspective. I also think it’s pretty wonderful that Gibbs entrusted you with a memory he felt he couldn’t otherwise share…that had to have been mutually cathartic.

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  23. Pingback: Gina Left the Mall & Helped Over 800 Troops | Buoyed Up

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