Christmas Kindness: A Reflection

It's Christmas Eve - My daughters are playing with the wrapped presents under the Christmas tree (a bit of torture having them refrain from opening them. Some of the wrapping has already been torn a bit but they are working hard to not rip them open in full. Gifts won't get unwrapped until tomorrow morning). Anyway, while I'm sipping coffee and the day starts slowly, I thought I'd write about a Christmas from long ago that still makes me smile.

Here's a little story for you ...

In 2002 I met a guy named Moises who lived in the barracks next to mine while I was at AIT (that was the army job training school). He was a freaking clown - always trying to get my attention and I wasn't having it at all. He'd make me little roses out of the chow hall napkins and drop them on my table while I was eating - men get creative when they want attention. Paper flowers? Not gonna lie, the boy was genius. He'd find a way to notice me among the sea of hundreds of Soldiers ... we didn't start up anything but his interest in me became a source of entertainment. It was a fun and harmless way to pass the time, I suppose. Even funnier was that my best buddy in AIT named Mckenzie HATED him and she ragged on him all the time - they went to Basic Combat Training together and it's fair to say they didn't part ways as best buddies.

We finished up our school courses and stayed in touch. He ended up deploying and by the time I was settled in the Midwest, he'd call me from overseas and chat endlessly about this and that. Like all Soldiers, he was married and having a tough time. I was an ear for him to vent his frustrations - after all, that's what friends do for each other. Listen, support, make each other laugh ...

I sent him letters and a few photos and care packages. Sending love to friends who were in the Sandbox was always a high priority thing for me. I was in college and still playing Soldier ... I was super busy. I was totally new to the Midwest and shortly after moving there, I experienced my first tornado, which touched down DOWN THE BLOCK from me. OMG. He called and checked in on me, which was surprising because I still don't know why he knew about the tornado and realized I was at the center of it. That call - him checking in on me throughout the night - sealed the deal. Our friendship was pretty damn solid.

Years pass and when I was out at a school in Maryland, he drove up to visit for the weekend. He joined me and my Army buddies and went out dancing, drinking, having fun. It was a good time. He and I hadn't actually seen each other in years although we chatted a bunch. It was fun existing as civilians and not Soldiers at adjacent barracks who were under crazy restrictions because it was a school house (training) environment.

More time passed and we crossed paths in New Jersey and went out for a drink. He had fam in Jersey and I did too. Worked out well. Again, enjoyed a drink and some great conversation. Then I went overseas and he'd send me some letters to me. I always loved getting fan mail - after all, I was the queen of sending all my buddies fan mail when they were in the Box.

So, around Christmas time I asked him to do me a favor while he was in New Jersey. I asked him to go visit my parents, give them a bottle of wine, and also hug them for me because I was far, far away in that little unknown place called Iraq. (okay, not unknown at all but most can't find it on a map LOL) He went above and beyond. He bought the wine and printed and framed a photo for both of them that I had made and sent home (via email -- so him printing and framing it without even telling me he was doing it was super cool of him). My parents are divorced so he planned accordingly - two bottles of wine and two printed and framed pics of the LB chick who was far, far away.

I just dug through my emails and found the one my mom wrote me after my friend visited them. It's a decent recap of the experience. Why did I send a friend? First and foremost, he's a good friend. Secondly, he's a Soldier. So a hug from a Soldier friend of mine on my behalf is meaningful - it just is. It's something that only military families could understand. It may not be THEIR Soldier, but it's a Soldier nonetheless. And, for him going out of his way to do this for me is something I greatly appreciate.

------------ email from my Mum following his visit --------------

hi liesl,

thinking of you as we head into the late hours here in new jersey. did you hear that moises came to our door tonight? i was just passing ridgedale school heading home after stopping in at whole foods when my phone rang. i didn't recognize the phone number... but i thought right away by the (910) area code it was a military number. yep- he said, "hi, i am a friend of your daughter, liesl." i guess i still flinch when someone on the other end of the phone line says that -- but only for a second. moises said he was in our driveway. i told him i'd be there in just a few minutes.

what a nice boy. and he brought a gift and a bottle of chardonney. the boys were jumping all over (and he had a black coat on) so i let the boys out to the backyard to play. he said i reminded him of you. LOL. 

we chatted for a while and i called papa to locate him. he was at the office so after i let the boys back in- i asked moises to follow me over there.  papa looked a bit apprehensive when i walked in with this big guy and introduced him as someone "special". it was great! we took a few pictures (once they figured out how to work the "press the button and run to get into the picture" thing-y). papa tried not to ask any wrong questions. LOL. but he did anyway. so funny.

papa opened his gift in front of us. i hadn't opened mine. i was going to wait until christmas. but i saw what you sent when he opened his. so great! now to figure out where i put it. i guess i put it where i spend my most time. might have to take it to work and put it by my desk. that really is where i spend most of my time. sad, but true. btw, that series of pictures was what i had picked to cut and paste into this year's christmas card. i saved you one and will send it to you.

moises was a perfect gentleman. told me a little about his journey since basic at fort jackson, ait, etc. and now his army job that has him traveling on lots of short term trips. anyway, he was so nice. i will definitely figure out something to send him as a thank you. jersey city. go figure. that's where his father lives. he said his father was a preacher. 

moises also said what a good friend you have been to him over the years. i am sure that is true. anyway, before i went to sleep tonight, i wanted to say thank you for making that visit happen and also for the gifts. BTW- do you have to pay him for the picture or the wine? let me know. i could reimburse him. i didn't even think to ask that when he was here. and you'd be happy to know i didn't cry. not until i left papa's office and was sitting at the red light at ridgedale avenue. i guess it hit me then -- how great it was to get a hug, a visit, and a gift from you through him. it made my christmas for sure.

okay. sleepy mom. just wanted to say thank you. happy christmas eve. actually, christmas eve technically doesn't start until the "eve" (night) but everyone calls all of december 24th christmas eve. 

i hope you can make the best of today and tomorrow. it is what it is and even though we are apart - we have to put on our big smiles and realize deep down that the love is always there no matter what the circumstances are. we are luckier than a lot of people because we have each other.

i'll write again after i sleep tonight and wake up in the morning. 

love u. thank u again. xo mom

------- and now a blog post I wrote around Christmas time in Iraq  --------

Me in Ramadi. Sandstorm, of course.

I listen to Christmas music but I can’t figure out why I put myself through the agony this year. I love Christmas music. I can rock out to Mariah Carey or Michael Bublè or Sarah McLachlan. Whoever it is, I love it. I love it all. I love the season, the feeling, the atmosphere, the anticipation of exchanging gifts …

I love the thought of a snowy Christmas morning, sitting on the couch and just staring at the beautifully decorated tree and seeing the presents below it wrapped with love (with coffee in hand).

But instead, I’m in Iraq and listening to Christmas music has never been more depressing. Do I listen anyway? Yes, I do. I listen because I can’t deny the season no matter how far away it seems. It feels as unnatural as Jonathan Schwartz playing his favorite holiday tune on NPR in July for the sake of playing it. No, man. Give it a rest. It’s got to be the season. I hear it’s December (LoL) but clearly, the spirit of Christmas didn’t make its way to Ramadi.

My family is at home and I listen to the holiday tunes they sent and think of them. I think about what I would be doing if I was home right now. I’d probably be figuring out where to shop, which wrapping paper I like more and where to buy the good bows (not the crappy ones … you need good ones for big holidays!). I would have already bought all my holiday cards and mailed them out. Yes, I love the holidays.

I did my Christmas shopping online already. I ordered from a few websites and here’s the funny thing about it – I have no clue what I ordered my family. I remember some things but I was thinking I would email my mom what I got my dad and tell her, “Ok, in the package will be this and this. This is for Papa.” And do the same for my brother, his girlfriend, my mom, step dad, etc. But, instead, I deleted a few of the confirmation receipt emails for the purchases. I hope they know what gifts are meant for them. LOL Geeez. We’ll see.

Note to self: do a better job at not deleting important emails.

My Mom just told me she’s mailing out my gifts today. I hope I get them on time for the holidays. I am certain she did a ton great shopping. She’s an expert shopper. I’m proud to say I got that gene from her.

My awesome cat. Pissed about the snow.

Let’s see, what would I love most about being home right now? Probably watching holiday movies, finding an ice skating rink to embarrass myself on, finding a perfectly snowy hill for sledding, making snowballs and throwing them for my dog to catch, putting my cat (on a harness and leash -LoL) about 10 feet outside the back door in the snow and watching him take super high steps as he made his way around the deck in the snow, wearing beautiful sweater dresses (my fav!) and jackets with beautiful scarves and decorative gloves. I also love hats. I’d have a slew of hats to wear no matter what outfit I wear. Gloves, scarves, hats and nice jackets … yes, it’s a necessity for me! And, all the while, I’d listen to Christmas music. Better yet, I’d sing along to it.

I love going to the church where I grew up on Christmas Eve. Lighting the candles and singing Silent Night is my absolute favorite part. What I would give to do that this year! If I were there, I’d be next to my Mom (the coolest chick/Mom ever) and put my arm around her. She’d cry, of course. She’s good at that. Poor, Mom. So many tears this year and it’s all my fault.

My awesome dog - living up the snow!

Speaking of which, I tried to get a friend of mine who I’m deployed with to show up at her house and hug her for me. She’s never met him – and it’s irrelevant anyway if she did know him. A Soldier is a Soldier. A hug from a Soldier … is just as good as a hug from any Soldier. I asked him too late to go see my Mom and surprise her. He called her anyway – what a nice guy. She said it was a “tissue” call for her. (more tears) At the end of this year, I swear she’s met her quota for tears. She’ll have to be on tear-time-out for at least a few months. I think she deserves holiday more than I do when my tour is over.

If I were home, I’d find any excuse to photograph pretty decorations, snowy days, my pets in the snow … Yeah, I’m a bit homesick. At least I’ll never take for granted the gifts of being at home with the ones I love. It makes me think of what it must be like for all the other vets in the world. Imagine that first Christmas home after World War I or World War II … Yes, it’s sweet to be home with a loving family. I’ve got a good one waiting for me. I can’t wait to be home.

I was joking with some people that it would be cool to at least be curled up by the fireplace instead of here. But, the only thing close to a fireplace is a burn pit. Curling up near that would be absurd. It would make for a funny photo but still too absurd to make happen. Just imagine, paperwork for the burn pile in hand, surrounded by black smoke from burning junk and sitting on the gross, muddy, rocky Ramadi ground in a blanket with coco in hand. LoL That’s neither romantic nor sanitary. LoL

** continued from yesterday **

Me & Ryan in Illinois

I got mail yesterday! My wonderful friend Ryan sent me “smell goods.” According to him, the scents are to “kill the smell of death.” He’s been a pretty fabulous friend to me these past few months. I currently have “Fireside” in the aromatherapy diffuser. I suppose it goes with the previous paragraph. (he must have read my mind!) He sent me other flavors as well so it looks like it will be Christmas in my office until I redeploy (that means go home). A big thanks to Ryan!

Note to self: encourage people to stop sending beef jerky (eww) and send “smell goods” instead.

Also got a small Christmas tree from a friend’s family - his name is "RG" -- an SF friend of mine whose family has decided to send love and support my way. I’ve never met them before so it’s really cool that when he asked his mom to send out a little holiday cheer to a deployed friend of his, she got right on it. Now, sitting next to my bed is a foot-tall tree with a star on top, little decorations and battery-powered lights. I love it! I put on holiday music in my room and decorated the little thing. It’s a perfect size for my little CHU. I love having my own little tree.

There were a few other packages to include boxes upon boxes from a school in Greenwood, Colorado. I’m going to leave it up to the chaplain’s office to distribute those goodies. They sent so much. I did keep a handful of items to include one card written by a 5th grader that begins the card with “Dear amazing, awesome Soldier …” How cool is that? Yeah, I’m keeping it. I also got two wrapped gifts from a very wonderful friend of mine that are sitting next to the tree in my room and a few other items from a friend in Colorado who sent me movies on a thumb drive. Nice. I met her through a friend since I’ve been in Iraq. Turns out, she’s a cool chick. It’s always nice to add cool chicks to my circle of friends.

That’s about all for now. I’m really grateful for the few gifts people have sent out my way. I hope everyone is getting in the holiday spirit no matter where you are in the world.

I have two quotes I’d like to share with you before I end this. One was in New Jersey Life magazine by Edwardo Galeano, “We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.” I love this quote. I think it’s beautifully passionate. Why live a life without passion? I’ll never know.

The other I found while looking for Thanksgiving quotes for the newsletter I do for the battalion. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., said, “Where we love is home, Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.

I hope this rings true for you. I know back home they are getting all their shopping done, discussing what great meals to cook, what delicious wines to drink, what movies to watch, what museums to visit, what exhibits to check out, what holiday decorations in what neighborhoods should get an evening drive by … *sigh. Geez. I miss my family. I miss my people. I miss home. I miss my real home. But, in my heart, it’s always with me. I just have to shut my eyes and think of all the great memories I have with the ones I love and … just like that … I’m home.

And now for some other photos of what life was like in the Sandbox -- might as well throw extra info on here. 

Allow me to explain the photos ... the top is a photo from Christmas. I opened all the presents that were sent on Christmas morning. Some were so damn funny. My mom spent so much money - a plush robe, Uggs, tons of little things that made me feel girlie and happy. RG's mom sent me a Christmas Tree, Candi sent awesome gifts that I opened with my friends, Ryan (as specified in the blog) sent me some smell goods ... For everyone who sent something, I appreciated it. Seriously - fan mail was awesome. I shared the wealth with my friends. And, Jason ended up eating all of the Reeces Pieces if I recall ...

The light painting was our take on Christmas. As a photographer, I always had fun at night with friends - light painting was a lot of fun. We used little laser pointers and long exposure to make some cool designs.

I don't have many photos of me overseas but the bottom one is a pic with a nice EOD buddy of mine who did me a solid when I was passing through AA (that's a location, not an alcohol support group) -- lent me his bed and his team's shower trailer. Traveling can suck but when you have a bed and not a shitty cot and when you have a shower trailer to use that isn't for transient troops, it's better. Major awesomeness. Again, it's the best when friends look out for each other.

I did do a Christmas Eve service with an OGA buddy of mine Tony. I lost touch with him after deploying and he's one of those non-internet footprint guys so finding him would require a bit more work that I can put in as a non-Soldier these days. Anyway, he joined me for Christmas Eve service. It was basically us and a bunch of the Ugandans who were TCNs at our location. Tony was a good buddy of mine and I liked his company. (Wherever you are in the world ... I hope you're happy and safe).

And that's it for me.

So, on this Christmas Eve, whoever you are, wherever you are, I hope you are happy, healthy and find many reasons to smile and feel grateful. Cheers, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays ... happy every day! 

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