Monday, August 15, 2011

Letter from home

I wrote a letter to my youngest brother, Ethan, today. He's deployed in the Middle East currently, and is slated to come home in early November from a short (in military terms, at any rate) six-month tour.

As I sat there, I struggled to come up with topics to write about. I felt terrible. Shouldn't I be able to come up with something witty to entertain my brother? We chatted online only last week -- a far more rapid mode of communication than snail mail -- so anything I said then would be repetitious. I wanted to write a letter that he'd be interested in reading, but everything I wrote sounded dull; trifles of my life that wouldn't mean much to him. I even mentioned the weather, usually the last of all possible conversational resorts. I am clearly in need of a more exciting life.

But as I continued writing, it occurred to me that even the boring little things I have to say do mean something to him, stationed as he is on a base in the middle of a desert (and where, I'm sure, Florida's daily thunderstorms would be a freak of nature). When he's not on missions he doesn't do much aside from play video games, read and work out, which can get old pretty quickly when you have no other options.

It also made me think that I was doing something that people have done for hundreds of years: write to their loved away at war. And although I don't necessarily think of Ethan being at war, per se (he's not in a fox hole somewhere), he is away from everything. I found myself picturing old World War II movies, where all the guys gather round for mail call, thrilled with a letter or even a flattened, stale cake from home. I'm sure it's done a bit differently now (and food sent isn't usually stale, what with faster transport times), but I have no doubt the excitement of receiving something from home is the same.

A number of years ago I read a book called War Letters. It started as an idea a man named Andrew Carroll had to preserve history in the form of letters written by servicemen and women overseas or away at war. He received thousands, and had letters (and later emails as well) from every campaign beginning with the American Revolution through Desert Storm (the book was published in the early 2000s). He's since gone on to edit several more books of the same type, one devoted solely to letters of faith. They're beautiful, moving books. The letters published are sometimes funny, almost always moving and, occasionally, incredibly sad. But they are a testament to those who were and are willing to give up their time (and sometimes more) to serve their country and the families they leave behind at home.

Even sometimes those overseas wished they had more to say (or could say more than the censors would let them) in letters home -- I know Ethan sometimes struggles with something new to come up with during Skype sessions, too. What can be said that hasn't been said already? And in one of the missives reprinted in "War Letters," an Army sergeant on Bataan during WWII laments to his wife that he doesn't have anything spectacular to write home about, either:

"I could write a lot of nonsense and a lot of foolishness but I know you will read between the lines and see more in spirit than in what I write."

So in the next week or so, Ethan should get my letter, written on the last few remaining sheets from a box of blue stationary, along with a small package. Hopefully it will prove distracting for a little while, and that he finds something to laugh at in what I've written him about movies I've watched and cleaning I've done around the house. The ubiquitous they say God is in the small stuff (although He is, of course, in everything), so I suppose it's not so much the content of a letter as it is the time taken: the love and pride implied and prayers prayed...


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