WRITING LETTERS |
October 27, 2006
Name: CAPT Lee Kelley
Posting date: 10/27/06
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: http://wordsmithatword.blog-city.com
Yesterday was a good day. I had a lot of work to do, the minutes sped past me unnoticed, and I was able to do something to strengthen both mind and body, which means I did some writing and hit the gym when I went off shift. No one in my unit was hurt or killed yesterday, no mortars or rockets hit the FOB, and I fell asleep with a satisfying sense of fatigue and a firm optimism about the days to come. Before bed I sat at my desk -– an ugly thing made of plywood and two by fours –- in the light of a small lamp and composed some letters. My eyes welled up because it’s difficult to write letters that you only want to be read if you die.
I started with one to my Dad, sounding formal, even though we never talk like that:
I know you raised me well, and I appreciate that. As a parent, I know it's not always easy...
To my dear wife,
If I don’t make it from sunrise to sunset today, please know how much I always loved you...
To my beautiful daughter,
Chloe, you have been such a light in my life, and I hope that you continue to shine as you grow into an adult. Know that I will be by your side always, and...
Why this day was my last we’ll never know. Why I decided to write this letter is yet another enigma. But I believe there is a reason for it all, and I wanted you to know that I love you so much, buddy...
I have been wondering why I haven’t written this type of letter before. We all know mortality can strike us at any time. We can be the unwitting target of a drunk driver, our hearts can simply stop beating, or we can be diagnosed with cancer. I could have written them back home, in the long hours of the morning, when the sun vaults from the horizon and suburban America rouses itself with percolating coffeemakers and the dew-covered newspapers cover the lawns like dead animals. Each minute can be our last, no matter who or where we are -- it’s the human condition.
In the Sunni Triangle, even though statistically fewer people get killed in combat here than die daily on America’s highways, you feel like death is closer, breathing down your neck, taunting you. And you laugh at him. You live and laugh right in his dark foreboding shadow, because what else are you going to do, cry about it? You just focus on the mission, and contribute the best you can. I don't think about death all the time, but I do find myself getting philosophical about it more often than ever before.
All these years I could have been composing a letter each day, once a week, or every month to my loved ones. But I didn’t write those letters. I never have, until last night. I am over three-quarters done with this deployment and I feel confident that I will return home and chase my dreams as I never have before. I know in my heart that I will wrap my arms around my two wonderful children. Still, these letters will be sealed, and on the envelopes I will write:
OPEN ONLY IN THE EVENT OF MY DEATH
I'm thinking those who read this will find it saddening. But it's not. It's a very good thing. I have been thinking about mortality a lot lately, and I am the kind of person that wants to leave words to certain people, not only memories. This is important to me. Leaving my writings, my blog, and my journals and notebooks is simply not enough. I want them to know I composed a letter directly to them, in my own handwriting. I like thinking that if something catastrophic should happen to me out here, and I never make it home, the people I care about the most will know exactly how I felt about them before I died.
They can sit down and look at the envelope in their hands, run the letter opener along the edge, listen to the soft rip of the paper. One likes to think that our actions in life demonstrate our appreciation for those we hold dear, but this is unfortunately not always the case. My loved ones will have no doubts as to how much they mean to me and how proud I am of them. I will make it very clear. Will I write more letters, now that I’ve opened myself to this line of thinking? I don’t know. But after these were done, I felt better. I let it all out. Got it off my chest.
When I return from this war, I’ll take care of these letters. I won’t even read them again. I’ll have a nice glass of red wine, or a dark beer with lemon in a frosty mug, and then I’ll burn them in my own little post-deployment ritual. I’ll smile at the flames as they eat away the now-muted possibility of my death in a combat zone.
For I will be home.
"When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in a manner so that when you die the world cries and you rejoice." -- Native American proverb