I never thought troops would send me a care package. Or letters and emails just when I needed a morale boost most. But they did. It really took me by surprise. It meant a lot to have people I’ve never met care enough to think of me. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a small taste of what mail call feels like for our troops.
Everyone has bad days. But unless it ends with a happy twist like the time a mariachi band boarded my crowded subway car and burst into song, I don’t mention it. I keep things light. Luckily, my daughter Sofia provides plenty of humorous mishaps and mild public humiliations for me to share. You don’t think it’s possible for your 5-yr-old to accidentally “pimp you out” in an elevator but, you’d be wrong.
I had gotten to know a few troops well and they knew I was getting divorced and looking for an apartment to rent. I didn’t vent about this. Just a statement of fact. But you don’t need details to figure out that this is not fun. The apartment search had the bonus of coinciding with Thanksgiving which made getting approvals harder since everyone was on vacation. I needed to move the first week of December. That month was filled with change and challenge. And, as it turned out, some very special mail deliveries.
My adopted soldier and his wife sent me a box. Inside were birthday and Christmas presents for Sofia. (Her birthday is at the end of November.) What a delightful and touching surprise! But what really got to me was the house-warming gift for our new home. A little cactus plant. It was sweet and hopeful and I loved it. It was also the first and only object in the apartment after I signed the lease.
What I didn’t know then was that my furniture delivery would be weeks late and this cactus would become a continuing source of sunshine through dark winter days.
What my adopted soldier and his wife didn’t know was that my birthday is near Sofia’s and that’s when the box arrived. This unexpected kindness was the best birthday gift I could have gotten.
The furniture was late so we had mattresses on the floor and stacks of boxes. With no table, we ate our meals “picnic” style. And no Christmas decorations were up yet. I unpacked Sofia’s toys first so I could sorta set up her room. Everything felt undone and overwhelming.
Then came the first time I had to take Sofia to her Dad’s place. After I dropped her off, I walked into the cold night with my heart feeling gutted without her. I went to my new lobby filled with strangers to check my mail. I had just done my change of address so I was surprised to find a card. Upstairs, in my undone apartment, I sat in her room and the emptiness was crushing. Then I glanced at the envelope in my hand and thought, “Who the heck is this?”
I didn’t recognize the name and in my achy blur, I didn’t notice the return address was Afghanistan. It was a Christmas card with one of those long letters that details the past year. It was from a combat medic that I had sent a few magazines and a letter to back in August while she was waiting to be adopted. Because of that small kindness, she had included me on her Christmas list.
As I read on, I discovered that she was mother of three. Her youngest was Sofia’s age. All of sudden I started crying. This woman would not see her children for a year. I would see Sofia in 30 hours. This woman lived in a combat zone. I lived semi-unpacked. Suddenly I thought: maybe I could suck it up for the next 30 hours. This mom I didn’t know helped me feel grateful for the blessings I had. With my spirits lifted, I went out that very minute and bought a Christmas tree and some lights.
In the coming days, cards from family and friends filled my mailbox. More troops surprised me as well. I loved them all, but I will always be especially thankful for the timing of that first card.
It was New Year’s Eve and Jim, one of my soldiers in Iraq, asked about my plans. I told him it was going to be low-key. I really just wanted to be home with Sofia. Then I wished him and his family well.
That year, Sofia was determined to stay up till midnight and watch the ball drop. But she was struggling to stay awake. The countdown began and she said, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, Zzzzzzzz” And she was out. I hugged her tight and just after midnight my email pinged. It was Jim.
“I hope your evening with Miss Sofia is one you cherish as one of your best New Years yet”
I broke out into a big smile. Grateful for the kindness of being remembered. Appreciating all the ways my troops made me feel special when I was having a tough time. And more determined than ever to do the same right back for them.
© Gina left the mall, 2013