Since the day I learned to read, I've never been able to stop. I was the kid who read the back of the cereal box during breakfast. I still prefer books to their high tech cousins, Kindle & Nook. In fact, I'd rather read while in a waiting room than be held captive by a t.v. screaming overhead. If a t.v. is present, I tuck myself in a corner on the opposite side of the room, as far away as possible.
I love that reading expands my horizons. I may never get to travel to Ireland, Scotland or Canada, but you, my invisible friends, make it seem as close as my backyard. It goes beyond politics and scenery...it's evolved into a caring which makes us do things as simple as automatically converting temperature/weight so the other party truly understands. Reading moves me, encourages me and often kicks my curiosity into high gear. Best of all, reading connects us all as humans who hurt, bleed and sometimes just need a hug of reassurance that things will get better. A virtual high five makes me smile.
The flip side of curiosity is discovering that the answers are often not pretty. They're scary, upsetting and have made me squirm in my chair. The trick is to come away from things which make us uncomfortable with a clearer understanding of the why. If you can understand another's situation, see it through their eyes, you're more likely to want to be part of the solutions in life, rather than hiding from the problems.
Sometimes the stories our soldiers share are the verbal equivalent of shock and awe: equal parts horror and discomfort balanced on the blade of unbelievable expectations handled in the blink of an eye. Our charity offers a method to work through those experiences once a soldier is home. But I will admit on more than one occasion I've wondered: is this REALLY helpful? Is our assistance enough to aid the healing process? I believe kindness is a ripple that can spread. But is our kindness effective enough to make a difference?
Today the ripple came back in my direction.
I received a letter from one of our soldiers. Recipient of a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart his letter began:
"I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation for the crossbow scope you provided for me and also for what your organization is doing for other wounded soldiers alike. It amazes me how your organization can give so generously to soldiers you have never met. Your efforts are providing veterans with opportunities to pursue hobbies that would otherwise be non-existent. With that being said, I will speak on the behalf of all wounded veterans to say we are all truly grateful for your organization recognizing a need for wounded warriors and provide accordingly."
Kind words always make you feel as if you're headed in the right direction. But you know what truly touched me? That he shared his story. From entering the military at 18 to a promotion which sent him to Hit, Iraq while leaving behind a 2 year old daughter and a wife 3 months pregnant...who would give birth while he was away. Hearing the description of his injuries made me cringe, but seeing him come out triumphant on the other side made me grin from ear to ear. Yes, he survived, but then there were the physical and emotional challenges of being shot 3 times. And, like many soldiers, there was the added challenge of, "I was a soldier. Now I'm not. What do I do?"
Through his shared words I cheered him on as he finished college and gave his wife a standing ovation for toughing it out (and to hear him tell it, it was tough). He included photos of himself in Iraq, rehab in the hospital (holding that new baby girl), with the scope we provided and a Christmas photo of a man surrounded by the three adoring women in his life. And they were all smiling. Genuinely happy, content smiles.
The photos were cool. But it's his words I'll remember. The fact he took the time to share the whole story. And for me, a "rest of the story" kinda gal, those words were like gold.
In an e-mail I shared that he was a "Special" soldier to us...because he was the 200th soldier we've assisted. I shared how I'd been there the day we presented a bow to our 100th soldier, whom I jokingly dubbed "Mr. 100". To this day, that soldier signs his e-mails to me, "Your Friend, Mr. 100". I jokingly told this soldier not to be surprised if I referred to him as "Mr. 200".
His letter arrived today...Hubby's birthday. As our official "Archery Guru", I often say Hubby & I KNOW the soldiers, because we're there from 1st contact to a bow in their hands. While our Board works hard and will appreciate the letter and photos, Hubby will understand on a deeper level.
I wonder some days if we make a difference. Today I know the answer is yes.
He signed his letter, "Your Friend. Mr. 200."