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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Veterans Day: A Thousand Letters from Home

American Flag CC0
American Flag, CC0

When I first heard that the postal service might face challenges, my initial response was to write a thousand letters. To whom would I write all of these letters, and why? Of course, they would be for my son, a career military man.

Due to the nature of his occupation, I haven’t spent the time with him as I had imagined. Do you know how we sometimes envision our future? However, I am proud of my son; I have learned to accept his chosen path gracefully. I am here whenever he has an opportunity to come home.

It is the definitive rule to be mindful that your children’s journeys are theirs, not yours. Knowing that and practicing it are two very different things. Parents have an opportunity and duty to raise their offspring—in my case, educate them.

Then, the fruits of your labor, or the fallout from the possible misunderstanding of this set time frame, have come and gone. In other words, if you still have your minor children at home and in your care, guide and teach them well. It is less complicated to deal with challenges in real-time than trying to rescue a wounded child in an adult’s body.

Soon after he left, I learned to rely on faith when I didn’t hear from him. He travels the world and cannot just pick up the phone to answer calls and send text messages. If you have a loved one in the military or you have served, you understand. Over the years, I realized that my journaling was very effective in processing and externalizing my thoughts. Once getting them out on paper, instead of allowing them to rattle around in my head, I clear a space for moving forward. People tend to get stuck when too many thoughts and concerns take the helm. I have taken this practice—transformative language arts—to another level. Healing through creativity is an ancient practice that knows many different names. I taught music and movement classes to children. I also facilitated a journaling and poetry writing class for female inmates at a county jail. It is fair to say that it was one of the most rewarding experiences that I have had. All of this has led me to believe in the power of creative expression—transformative arts. I have journaled my way through worry, grief, anger, concern, confusion, happiness, and more. It helps me to remain clear and grounded. It is also insightful for self-realization. In 2020, when the lockdowns began, and the dark, foreboding messages flooded the airways, all I could think about was my children. Yes, they are grown and on their own. For a small minority, motherhood may seem to have a beginning and end. This is nothing but a myth run amok. Let’s be honest, most parents (both mothers and fathers) do not flip a switch and stop worrying about their kids after they reach the age of eighteen. We can blow up their phones, bite our nails, wondering why they didn’t respond as we create elaborate scenes with an imagination that is out of control. Or we can lay awake and wonder if they are safe, healthy, stable… the list goes on. A smart parent has found the balance while getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night. I used to think that “trusting the process” was just a powerful mantra in college. No, it applies at all times. Contrary to the age-old stigma about homeschooled children having issues with their social skills, the opposite was true for me. (My friends and I used to call socialization the “S-Word.”)

My kids traveled around the world and country when they grew up. To my dismay, there were no apron strings here. This is another aspect of our dynamics that required reframing. Okay, this is good. I think. They are not cemented to me. Rejoice!

If needed, I’m available, but they have the tools to navigate. Rather than doing things for them, I taught them how to function independently. They carry and refer to their inner compasses. Throughout the years, I have questioned this. After reaching clarity, I realize that their independence is a good outcome.

The umbilical cord is not severed. It is invisible and continues to grow and remain connected. This brings me back to letters. With all that has transpired of late, I longed to talk to my son, serving our country. I wasn’t into calculating time zones and wondering if I was interrupting him or the message even went through. I had so much to say!

Letter, Nature, CC0
Letter, Nature CC0

It occurred to me that everything doesn’t have to happen via high-tech. I remembered when he was in boot camp, and I sent him a letter a day. They weren’t long letters, just brief newsy accounts from the home front. It was about that lifeline, that classic archetype of mother and home, going a little further. It is affirming that you are loved.

This memory inspired me to write to him now. It is so basic. The act of writing letters to my son is done without any expectations. It is for me. I have many thoughts that I wish to share with him. As I have learned and stated to others throughout the years, sacrifice lacks love. My letters are an act of love, not sacrifice. They are expressions of my heart and the depths of my higher self, given freely. It is liberating. Writing to him reminds me of exhaling. It must be. I didn’t mention that I mailed a letter; I just did. I dropped it in the mailbox and moved along. It was uplifting and freeing. His response to this standard old way of communication is very positive. He celebrates and embraces the idea of penning letters to each other. With the ability to connect instantly, who writes hard copies of letters anymore? My son and I do. The act of writing is therapeutic and helps to rewire what may have been tangled up inside. I will continue to write to my boy. I will pray for him and all of the others who so bravely serve our country—past and present. I have risen above my faltering patriotism. I honor him, my father, ancestors, and all of the men and women on this great earth who have served us, risking it all. Thank you, God Bless America


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