Cary’s weekend archival column: Dec. 24, 2004/Dec. 25, 2005

Dear reader,

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I’ve asked my family to write but they say they’re too busy.

 

Dear Cary,

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.

Thanks,

Benjamin

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Dear Benjamin,

I forwarded your note to your family. Their response was rather surprising:

“Dear Benjamin,

“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!

“Love,

“Your Family”

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.

© Copyright Salon Media Group

 

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Update on the lonely soldier

Remember that soldier in Iraq sitting all by himself wishing the family would write? Response from readers was amazing.

 

Dear Cary,

Could you please give us an update on the poor soldier who was alone at Christmas with the family that was “too busy” to write? Did you get many responses from readers for him?

Brenda

Dear Brenda,

Wow. Did I get many responses? Yes, it was amazing. All told, more than 400 readers were moved enough by that soldier’s letter to write to him. I’ve been meaning to update everybody on that. Here’s what happened:

I was on vacation on Friday, Dec. 24, the day the soldier’s column was on the cover. I happened to check my e-mail and saw this note: “Cary, why don’t you set up a Hotmail (or something) account for that soldier, give him the password, and then publish the address so this poor guy can get greetings from your readers? It might not happen in time for Christmas, but it probably could for New Year’s and he would love it, I’m sure.”

That seemed like a pretty good idea, I said to my wife. However, it would require getting in touch with the soldier, whose whereabouts I didn’t know, getting his OK, setting up the account, getting the password to him, then publishing it. As I considered all the steps involved, I decided to take a simpler, if more labor-intensive, route and just publish a notice in that day’s column inviting readers to send greetings to the soldier at the advice@salon e-mail address, and I would forward them. I published that notice on the column around midday Dec. 24.

Then my wife and I went about our business. We wrapped presents, we cooked some food, and then set off to see the “Nutcracker” with niece, nephew and in-laws, as we traditionally do on Xmas Eve. (Tradition also dictates that every year we forget to make reservations at any restaurant, preferring instead the holiday cheer of wandering chilly San Francisco with hungry children in tow, looking for a place to eat. It seemed that every place we might eat was either closed or full. Incredibly, both Max’s Opera Cafe and Chevy’s were closed! John’s Grill was full up. The Hayes Street Grill was full up. But wait! What’s this! Cafe Della Stelle has a corner table in the window! For six! There is a restaurant God after all!)

After dinner we came home and toasted marshmallows in the fireplace and opened presents. (I got a furry jacket, which I am now wearing all the time.) After Dom and Doris and the kids left, the fire was dying down, and it was quiet and warm in the house and I was alone with my wife, and it seemed like an ideal time to … check my e-mail!

That was our “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment: The letters had been pouring in all afternoon and evening! It was so sweet! It was so moving! There were hundreds of letters — thoughtful, kind, measured letters recognizing the simple fact that, policy differences be damned, this guy is family. So we spent the rest of Christmas Eve forwarding these letters to that soldier. Here are some of the things that people said:

“Gaaahhh, your letter in Salon was terrible! From at least the 15 people I told this to, Happy Freaking Holiday!! A thousand smooches from the pretty girls. A thousand pats on the back from the boys.”

“Aw, c’mon, Cary, give us saps out here a way to contact poor Benjamin and his guys there in Iraq so we can send them letters and cards and homemade body armor and stuff.”

“Thank you for laying your life on the line for the rest of us back home. Thank you for enduring life in Iraq.”

“I propose that your family is ultimately too distracted by the culture they live in to see past the crap that burdens their existence. It’s what we all do — define ourselves by the norms and expectations of our culture. So I cannot believe they don’t love you and wish you were with them, and maybe they’re also quietly terrified of having you where you are.”

“Mahalo, Mele Kalikimaka and Hauoli Makahiki Hou from Hilo, HI!”

“I was and am against the war, but I have tremendous respect for people like you who are willing to put your lives on the line for this country, regardless of my feelings (or yours) about the decisions made by the political leadership.”

Those are just a few quotes from the first few letters. Reading through them still gives me some kind of chill. I don’t know what it is. I guess it’s just plain old goodness and compassion and decency is what it is.

My wife and I sat there at the iMac and forwarded as many letters as we could by midnight, and then we went to bed.

I got a quick note from him the next morning, saying, “Merry Christmas, brother, and my most sincere thanks to everyone who has replied.”

Not too long afterward, I got another, longer note from him:

Connecticut

Dear Cary,

My wife is also a regular Salon reader, it didn’t take long after she read the letter for her to put two and two together and immediately hit me up. We talked for hours over I.M. and I think both of us were reduced to uncontrollable sobbing through it all. She apologized profusely and passed the word onto my family, who also in turn have responded in droves. Sometimes a kick in the pants is all that’s needed to remind us of the truly important things in life.

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression. This deployment has been extremely hard on my wife, who has had to deal with severe financial constraints; I’m in the National Guard, and we took a severe pay cut when I deployed, raising our son, trying to keep everything on the home front secure and all the things a spouse does when their partner heads off to foreign lands.

Thank you, Cary. Thank you for your words of advice and for all of your readers who have responded with all their love and support. It means the world to so many of us over here, so far away from those we love and care for.

All my love to you and your readers,

Benjamin

Pretty cool, huh?

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