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.

GIBBS:  No.

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?

GIBBS: Yes.

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.

Payback

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. Awesome !!! Wonderful post..
    Take away- Gratitude and the attitude of sharing make the celebration of life, much more meaningful n fun 🙂
    Congratulations for being freshly pressed 🙂 & I could drop by..

    HAppy Blogging

    • Dayna, thank you so much!! I was so surprised when I found out! Thank you for being a “pre-fresh” reader 🙂 and for adopting those soldiers and spreading awareness on your on own blog. It all means a lot to me!

  2. Since reading this and then re-blogging to my own blog, I have been thinking of a way to help you help our troops. I am not a man of great means but one of (my view) great heart. II have decided that the best way I can help is by getting the word out about you and the good you are doing. I am on Facebook and in touch with a lot of the people I served with and also parents of people serving now. Every time I share your post, the people I share it with also share the inspiration you have given me through this story. I can say with out doubt you are becoming a viral phenomena with my fellow veterans and patriots I am in contact with.

    I doubt that was your intention with your journey that started with a simple cup of coffee, but your inspiration must be shared and know that because of your reaching out others are now doing the same.

    Sincerely,

    Michael Goldsmith

    • Dear Michael,

      I have no doubt you have a great heart. And it seems you have a generous one as well. I don’t think I’ve ever been a phenomena, but I honored to approach that status in your virtual world 🙂 I can’t tell you how much it means to me when people share my blog. Only because it means the divide between civilian and military has a chance to get one step smaller. Thank you for all your support!
      Sincerely,
      Gina

    • Thank you! I never realized until I started doing this how much they really go through and the day-to-day impact on their loved ones. An Airman told me, “I signed up for this. My family is really making the sacrifice.” I thank your brother and your family for all you do.

  3. Very well written! I loved it. I hope you know , and I believe you do , how important that patch is to a soldier. I’ve been out of the Army for close to forty years and still have mine. In fact , I pinned one of lapel pins on my nephew when he made Eagle Scout but every thing else is still put away. God bless you.

    • Thank you!! Yes I do know how important it is. That’s why it means so much to me. I’m sure your nephew felt the same way when you chose to honor his outstanding achievement with your lapel pin. And I thank you for your service.

  4. So glad you shared this program. I was feeling pretty useless yesterday, and then I found out that I could make someone feel good for pocket change. I wrote about your post in my blog, and I hope to get the word out to more people. Thanks for writing!
    Melanie at http://www.BackCreekDesign.com

  5. The “Cup of Joe” thing was a huge morale boost for me while deployed, not just for the free coffee (which was nice, believe me, because the DFAC coffee is terrible) but also because I always looked forward to seeing the notes that people would leave with their gift. After you’ve been deployed for a while it gets easy to believe the rest of the world has just moved on and to hear from someone and know you’re not forgotten is HUGE. The first thing I did when I got home was “pay it forward” by signing up for the Cup of Joe program and buying some coffee for the guys (and girls) still over there. Great program.

    • I’m so happy that you received with your coffee exactly what I wanted to give Gibbs- the certainty that he was not forgotten. I think it’s wonderful that you chose to pay it forward! Especially since you know first hand the difference it can make for someone!

  6. Dear Gina–Damn! I laughed, I cried. This may be the first blog in a very long time that has touched me. So, thank you and damn. Nothing quite like tear weakened coffee. Thank you. Now I am going to get on CUP of JOE, do my bit, and then reblog your fine piece.

  7. Reblogged this on Chef Janet Rörschåch and commented:
    I come across pieces by other writers that touch me. This is one of them. My pop, uncles, grandfathers, great grandfathers all served in the military. My ability to pay them back for all they did, well, it is small, but I’ll start with a thank you, and then, I’m going to start buying these brave men and women cups of coffee and share some kind words.

    • Janet, I try to respond to every comment and just realized that I did not reply to yours. Please forgive the delay! But please know that I am sincerely grateful to your pop, uncles, grandfathers, great grandfathers for all they did. To your family for all the ways they supported them. And to you for kindly sharing this story. I hope you did get a chanced to try Cup of Joe and, by this point, have some stories of your own that touch the heart.

  8. Absolutely touching story. I smiled and then cried when I read it. As a military mom, I can totally relate to this story. These men and women are so appreciative of the smallest gesture. A combat patch is an awesome gift and I am so glad you cherish it but, ….that you remember all the sacrifices that went into earning it. Thank you for sharing your story with us!

    SFC “Gibbs”, Thank you for your service to our great Nation. For your sacrifice, future generations will live in greater peace prosperity and hope. Thank you for defending the gift of freedom so far from home and for bringing a spirit of courage to life everyday. May you find peace and know the American public is thankful for your dedication. God Bless. Hooah!

  9. I love this for a few reasons – 1) supporting our military. My bro-in-law got done with his last tour to Afghanistan a month or so ago. 2) Gibbs and NCIS. Love that show.

  10. Gina,
    I know you’ve heard it a lot, but thanks for all that you do, it totally makes a difference. I’ve got 3 deployments under my belt and I was fortunate enough to have a strong support group that kept me feeling the love through all three. But part way through my second tour I realized a lot of the guys I was responsible for weren’t getting any mail other than bills and junk mail. It amazed me how quickly my friends back home rallied to make sure these kids got care packages and letters and to this day, I’ve never been able to thank them enough or help them understand the difference their efforts made in these soldiers’ lives. I know of at least one case where it probably saved someone’s life, that connection with another person being the difference between choosing living over suicide.

    Thank you, both for your actions and your words.

    • I think your men were very fortunate to have someone looking out for them the way you did. To see what they needed beyond food, shelter and ammo. And I think it’s AWESOME that your friends stepped up to help fill the void.

      It truly is humbling when you realize the impact you can make in the life of another person with a simple note. Just letting that person hear their name at mail call and have irrefutable proof that they matter. And yes, its a connection to another human being that can save lives.

      We should be in this together. Those that serve and those that benefit from that service. The good news is, I think it’s doable. After all, sometimes all it takes is a cup of coffee.

      Thank you for your kind words. Thank you for all you have done and do. And please forgive me for responding so late. Sometimes when wrestling my schedule, I don’t always win 🙂

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  12. This young soldier served with courage, but with grace. His strength is admirable, but his grace stands above all else. Thank you for sharing this with us in our “real worlds.” It gives me a much broader meaning of perspective and gratitude, and a message that we all should live with his brand of grace.

    • Alden,
      I try to respond to ever comment and realized today that I missed a few on this post including yours. Please forgive my delayed reply! Gibbs most certainly did serve with grace. I think he would be too humble to admit it (he wouldn’t tell me what he was getting a Bronze Star for…or any of his other medals) but I know in my heart it is true. And I have the patch to help remind me of his example.

  13. As a soldier of The 1st Infantry Division, and being currently deployed, I can say, that is an amazing thing you did for him. Every little thing counts for us when we are here. Every opportunity we get to say “I love you” to our family, not knowing if we will get to talk to them again. I have heard it argued that this could be said about anywhere you are, while it is true, it is definitely a higher likelihood here. A lot of the young soldiers i serve with here have the occasional thought that America has all but forgotten us. Thank you Gina for your support for us. Thank you for helping to uplift that SFC, and thank you for supporting one of my brothers in arms.

    • Bob,
      Getting to say, “I love you” is something most people take for granted. And things like reading bedtime stories to your kids can seem ordinary and everyday. But what troops and their families have shown me again and again, is that these are the very things we should appreciate. Many people have told me it’s what they miss most. So I do try to remember that and, as I kiss my daughter goodnight, I try to remember the families that are apart…. because they sacrifice that moment in service to the rest of us.

      When I first started doing volunteer work, I was surprised how happy my small efforts could make someone. It was humbling then empowering. I can make a difference with a cup of coffee? A postcard? Sign me up! 🙂 I feel grateful that I got a chance to do so for this SFC.

      I am also grateful for your service. And those of the young soldiers serving with you. Please tell them for me that they are not alone or forgotten.

  14. Gina,

    I know it’s been awhile since you posted this, but I just found it through a Facebook post by “Stolen Valor.”

    Thank you for YOUR service.

    JC

    SSgt USAF 83-92

    • John,
      Thank you for your kind words! It is a pleasure and honor to do these small things for those that do so much for the rest of us. Thank you also for telling me about the Facebook post. I was kind of wondering why this story was getting so much attention today. I’m really happy that more people are learning about COJ, whether it be to send some or to sign up while deployed. That was one hardworking $2 cup of coffee…it’s still giving! And thank you for your service. My family and I are truly grateful.

  15. Dear Gina,
    From a Desert Storm Veteran thank you for you blog just spent the last 3 hours reading it. It reminds me of all the mail calls that my name was called for letters. Most of the time I didn’t get named mail, but took “Any Serviceman” letters and wrote replies. I just remember how nice it was to receive letters from pen pals. Well thanks again, Jay

    • Dear Jay,
      Thank you for your kind words and for spending so much quality time here! I’m honored. I’m also happy that the stories brought back some nice memories. A letter to a stranger from a stranger…a small thing yet, not small at all. I’m glad you got to know that people cared. And I am grateful for your service.
      Gina

  16. Wow what a great gift/thank you you have received from your soldier. 🙂
    I just found your blog. I was curious in what ways other supported their soldiers and I’ve gotten a few nice ideas. I just started sending letters and care packages to deployed service members and even though I don’t expect to hear back from them, I still hope the “care” part of my care packages and letters will brighten their days.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences! 🙂

    • Alex,
      It was a wonderful gift and I carry it with me still 🙂 And I assure you that the “care”part of your package is gratefully rec’d. Thank you for all you are doing!

      Different groups that support soldiers have info on their sites with ideas for care packages and often forums or Facebook pages where people share ideas. If you belong to one of these groups, you can search there. On my site I have often posted different ideas.

      One thing that’s always fun it to get others involved. I once brought a stack of postcards to a labor day party and had everyone fill them out so I could “take my solder” to the party. I’ve done art project with my daughter’s class (avoid my mistake—no glitter) I’ve sent a “beach” to a soldier in Kandahar.

      If you are contact, it’s easier because you have an idea of what they like/want. Silence is a challenge, but a smile is always welcome and even when I’ve sent just hygiene items I include a toy – like bouncy balls or something silly. Good luck! And thank you again!

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