Dear Military Service Member,

I have a deep need to do two things: call you by a name (Sam, Margo, Mario, Tianyi) and picture you in a specific place (West Texas, North Carolina, Afghanistan). But I'm able to do neither. You are someone I don't know, someone in some where I have probably never been. But I feel the reality of your life just as sure as I feel these keys under my fingers, and it's a bit miraculous to understand that what I'm about to say will reach you, whatever letters it takes to make up your name.

Let me start here: I'm Emily. I live in Carver County, Minnesota. On the green couch where I write now, I have a view through the window of the night stretched before me, and it's an inky black, liquid in the way the wind pushes it in all directions. The clouds hang low and thick, so no light from stars or moon slip in. Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Details like this always make me pause and wonder about tides and dormancy and long and short shadows and the other side of the world. I can't help looking for some significance.

In the morning, the light will sift through the clouds and lay long fingers on our strange December. Last winter at this time, Minneapolis had almost forty inches of snow, and I'd already taken long, awkward walks in too-big-for-me boots. But yesterday I still wore my autumn coat and chose my scarf by color, not warmth. There is no snow here, only brown grasses, still green in some places, that when walked on feel hard as stone. I wear small, thin shoes, and feel the earth tightening beneath me.

Do you know what I mean?

When the first real snow comes, it will cause traffic jams and spin outs and missed meetings. Fingers will shrink with the cold, cheeks will pink at the wind's bite, and there will be cursing on every street. But I keep thinking that the white will also be widely welcomed, embraced even by those with long driveways, because of the wait. The wanting. The wonder over what has kept it away, all those reasons that are each little stories of other lives. 

You know? 

On Friday I will drive through county after county, up Interstate 94, past hundreds of acres of furrowed fields, dusty with dry soil, toward my parents' home. I will look for birds. I will scout out signs of deer inside stands of grey woods. I will watch the sky shift above me, holding out handfuls of blue, and I will think of you. I will wonder where you are this Christmas. I'll imagine, if not your face, then your feet, the weight of your boots, the way they hit the ground, if that ground gives a little. 

You are walking somewhere I don't know, perhaps somewhere that you haven't known yourself for very long. And really, it is miraculous, because in a way you are walking that path for me. For so many people who will never know if it snows outside your window or if there's heat, if you like one or both, what the night looks like to you when you stare into it,or the letters of your name. For people who will only be able to say thank you like this.



*** My creative writing students wrote letters to servicemen and women yesterday. Tomorrow I'll send them to A Million Thanks, an important organization that--regardless of your beliefs on war--passes on bits of encouragment and appreciation, something we all deserve. Join us? Happy holidays, everyone!***


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