As I sit in my room, taking yet another break from the packing process that marks the final few weeks of my time in the Sinai, I am able to reflect on the past eight months here in Egypt. More importantly, as I thumb through the countless letters, cards, gifts, and words of encouragement — most of which are from perfect strangers — I am once again overcome with a sense of astonishment at the kindness of average people, most of whom I do not even know personally. And I mean absolutely no insult by the phrase “average people.” In fact, it is just the opposite; incredible people committing extraordinary acts of kindness. I only use the term “average” in that I have come to the realization that these folks are the rule not the exception. These acts simply do not get the recognition deserved.
If you are friends with me on Facebook then you have likely already seen me post on several occasions the care packages or gifts I have received from individuals, organizations, and sports teams leading up to, and throughout, the holidays and beyond. It all started back in the fall when I was looking for a copy of Jurassic Park and dropped a line to a group known as Books For Soldiers. This nonprofit was organized during the original Gulf War to provide free, new or gently used books upon request for service members overseas. After submitting my address, I thought nothing more about the book until a copy of Jurassic Park arrived in the mail a few weeks later with a personalized letter.
As you can tell, I was a bit surprised and even more flattered by the fact that someone I had never met took the time to do something of this nature for me. Obviously I understand that this is what the organization does, but that fact did not make it any less of a breath of fresh air.
I had seen a number of similar support groups online for deployed service members to that point, but a combination of the skepticism of the legitimacy of any potentially random website, the apprehension of divulging complete personal information to a web form, or just a general feeling of a lack of claim to any “freebies” because I was not deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan had all previously led me to dismiss any such organizations. And wrongfully so.
After the success with Books For Soldiers I decided to submit my information to a wide array of groups, having a little fun with the process around the holidays, and I was not disappointed. Since October, I have heard back from a number of charitable organizations, each of which sent more than one care package, including Bunkers In Baghdad, Operation Support Our Troops – America, and Treat The Troops, as well as companies such as Zippo, the Cincinnati Reds, and WWE, all of which sent free merchandise to pass out to my guys at Christmas.
And then I heard back from the Cincinnati Bengals, who sent the following:
The original idea was to have a little fun and cure a little boredom during the winter grind and the response was not only unexpected, it was down right humbling. Bunkers In Baghdad sent multiple boxes of golf clubs, golf balls, and golf memorabilia; Operation Support Our Troops – America sent several boxes containing snacks and toiletries; and Treat The Troops sent an assortment of cookies, candy, and comfort items on four separate occasions via the Iowa Cookie Crumbs and the Council Bluffs Centennial Rotary Club, both of Council Bluffs, Iowa. My Platoon and I even received care packages and hand-made cards and letters from the students of Imagine Clay Avenue Elementary School in Toledo, Ohio, the National Junior Honor Society of Falling Creek Middle School in Chesterfield, Virginia, and the congregation of God’s Grace Church in Campbellsville, Kentucky.
As you can see I was more than spoiled but don’t worry, all of the goodies were passed out to my peers and coworkers.
From Facebook on February 18, 2014:
“I continue to be amazed by, and grateful for, the generosity of perfect strangers. Once again, I dropped my name in to a virtual hat and shortly thereafter received an incredible care package for my efforts from people I have never met. This time the culprits were the fine folks of Treat The Troops via the Rotary Club and other thoughtful residents of Council Bluffs, Iowa. I had since forgotten about adding my name to their mailing list so when a box full of cookies, candy, and words of encouragement showed up in today’s mail run I was that much more surprised and appreciative. These gestures maintain my faith in humanity and prove there is a lot of good left in America regardless of what the news will have you believe. As cliché as it sounds, it is the little things in life that can have the biggest impact on someone’s day, as I can attest to with this afternoon’s care package. You may never know what someone is going through but just the slightest act of kindness could be the difference so pay it forward and do something nice for someone today.”
These sentiments ring true now more than ever and I do not believe all of the aforementioned organizations, companies, schools, and people fully understand how much their unconditional support means to me. This experience has truly renewed my faith in many facets of life.
Not to be outdone, however, are my close friends and my family — my rock and my foundation. The support and encouragement (and letters, and cards, and packages, and gifts) from those who matter most to me continue to be what drives me each day. There are too many individuals to name for fear of leaving someone out but they know who they and I hope they know how much they, and their unconditional love and loyalty, means to me every morning I wake up.
A quote that I recently discovered has stuck with me throughout this deployment, and I feel is only fitting in this instance, comes from Robert Kennedy, “The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.” No matter how big or small, any positive contribution goes a long way in making things better and can have a lasting impact far greater than one might imagine, as evident by the outpouring of support mentioned above. And while the media is chock full of negativity and the 24-hour news networks will find ways to further divide our country just to earn a dollar, it is refreshing to see people put their differences aside and simply support one another as Americans and as human beings. Once again I say that you may never know what someone is going through on any given day so before passing judgement understand that just the slightest act of kindness could be the positive difference that person needs.
So pay it forward and do something nice for someone today.