I heard my name over the rumble of personnel carriers and helicopters, it rang out like a church bell loud and clear. That day was mail call and I hadn’t heard from home in a couple weeks, we all gathered round the Quarter Master when he’d drag out that ol bag of mail, many of us didn’t expect anything from home and despite our impending emotional downfall at watching our buddies tearing open packages and letters we’d still gather but pretend we are cleaning our weapons or got nothing else to do. But that particular day was different for me and I ripped that envelope from his hand and stared at it a while, I held it in my hands turning it over and over knowing that my girlfriends tender fingers had held it the same way, that her lips touched the glue strips on the back and her hands slowly wrote out my name on the front.
Mail for a soldier is what drives em, it offers hope and remembrance of what we are all fighting for. It can make or break a person. It is the only tie to the reality left behind, to safety and to peace. When your feet hurt from marching for days and your hands are cracked and bleeding from the sand and the dirt and your mind is tired from operating in survival mode 24 hours a day getting a letter from home, a package or a picture can offer a moment, a respite from the hurt and the hunger.
That seems like a million miles away and too many years ago but it feels the same from time to time. When life gets tough and my body aches and my mind can’t quite figure out what I am supposed to do and I cant ask for help because I don’t precisely know what I need help with, I can’t look for a letter, these days nobody writes em. No one sits down and pens a note to a friend or a lover these days, the act of doing so is too personal I suspect. When you write someone’s name it echoes in your mind many times bringing up thoughts of moments past, memories of experiences shared with that person. When you have to sit down and think of what to write you begin to process what it means to know them, to understand them, you must rely on feelings. Today it seems most people logon to Facebook and look at someone else’s picture of a person, they might send a quick note to say hi or “reach out” but often times they might not even remember what they just wrote because it didn’t take remembering and feeling what you shared with that person. It wasn’t personal. It isn’t tangible.
I fear we are losing that aspect of reality, the tangible, the touch, the feel, that reaction or sensation we experience when we look into someone else’s eyes or touch their hands. We don’t get to smell them. We don’t get experience them as more than an emoji. I go to my mailbox now and I get junk, advertisements, bills, all sorts of stuff trying to take something from me but nothing offering a hello, nothing shared, nothing to hold, nothing that takes me away from the pain and the hunger. Not even for a moment. Somehow those days just slipped away.
I recently tore open a wall in the basement of my new home and found a small picture, the kind we use to give each other with a note on the back, this was a picture of a sweet looking young girl, maybe high school age, maybe older from the early ‘70s, and there was a hand written note on the back to someone special. It was profound and heartfelt, it was simple and sweet and penned with love. I held it and wondered how the person felt that received it. How many years had it been posted on the wall before it slipped away. The person whom wrote the note appeared to take her time writing it and did so with lots of kindness and charm. I turned it over a few times in my hands and smiled. And then I felt a little sad.