Mail Call — God’s Provision for Intimacy

Mail Call — God’s Provision for Intimacy

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

Mail Call— God’s Provision for Intimacy

Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.

May Sarton

My husband and I started writing letters to each other early in our friendship. We had no choice. Before the advent of e-mail, it was write or not communicate. Fred and I met in Washington, D.C., two weeks before he left the Naval Academy for his sophomore summer midshipman training. He was onboard ship for most of that summer, so letter writing was integral in how we got to know each other. We’d send silly cards, cut out cartoons from the paper—whatever we could think of to make our next connection meaningful and fun.

Three years of dating and writing culminated in our wedding at the Naval Academy chapel on a glorious June morning, but nothing could have prepared me for the next ten years of continuous sea duty. Fred was away for days and weeks, with three-month and the killer six-month deployments.

While the ship transited the Pacific, there were no mail drops for almost four weeks, sometimes five—an eternity for a mom with two young daughters. Oh, the burst of joy at finding a much-awaited letter in the box after weeks of no communication! That single envelope with my sweetheart’s handwriting on it was all it took to get me singing exultant hallelujahs you could hear clear down the block. I’d clutch the letter to my heart, running inside to savor and devour his words like a dieter gorging on a big chocolate bar. I’d read them over and over and over.

On the far side of the ocean, mail call was the highlight of every “underway replenishment,” when the ship would gas up from a fuel tanker at sea. Soon, the mailbags came across the lines strung between the two ships, the sailors and officers anxiously awaiting their letters from home. Fred told me that he reacted much like I did, hoarding his precious envelopes, finding a comfortable spot at day’s end to read and reread the news from home.

With two pregnancies, sick babies, a burglary, bursting pipes and being on mom duty 24/7, believe me, there were days when I wanted to scream, “Enough!” How would our marriage survive, I wondered many times, with an ocean between us? Through all the shipboard separations, our letters were the glue that connected us and held us together.

I remember (it still brings a smile) the letter from Guam that explained the ship was met by numerous brown boobies. Instantly indignant, I read on, only to learn that brown boobies were local birds!

Then there were those times I shared portions of Fred’s letters with our young daughters. I read a funny story about Daddy’s liberty in Hong Kong, and how he described eating “escargot,” better known as snails, in a local restaurant. He’d liked them! Can you imagine that?

A few days later, when I was out working in the yard, I caught three-and-a-half-year-old Megan about to chomp down on a garden-variety snail. She burst into tears when I screamed, “Stop!” I ran over to her, grabbed the snail and flung it over the back fence into the canyon.

“But Mommy! Daddy likes snails, remember?”

I had to do some fast talking, and needless to say, I was more careful about the sections of Daddy’s letters that I read in the future.

It wasn’t until my husband left the navy after twenty-six years to begin a civilian career that I made an important discovery about those letters. Who would have thought that, in spite of our countless military separations over twenty-six years in the navy, the letters we exchanged would do more to foster intimacy than if my husband had been at home? I certainly wouldn’t have. I’d always been afraid we would grow apart because of Fred’s long absences from home. I realized that just the opposite had happened.

One day, when I was “cleaning out,” I came upon one of many shoe boxes filled with his letters. Mind you, I’m a firm believer in getting rid of extra “stuff.” All those years of moving and “cleaning out” have kept our home organized.

With my hand on the trash can, I asked myself, Should I toss them out? Instant heart-pounding panic stopped me. How could I even think such a thing? Fred’s letters are valuable pieces of family history. They represented a huge chunk of our lives.

But even more important than that is a profound “aha” that washed over me. My husband and I had felt called to a life of military service, and we had been obedient to that difficult calling through all its joys and hardships. God showed me that our letters were his provision for an intimate relationship, in spite of our many separations.

How could that be, you might ask? As I reflected on how God had provided intimacy, I saw that my husband had shared deep parts of himself on those precious pieces of paper. Often, he would write to me after a “mid watch,” in the early morning hours. All would be quiet on board ship, and he would describe the sea at night, the serenity of it, the glassy water with a golden moon watching over it. Or he would write about the turbulence of a typhoon and its twelve-foot seas, about a new understanding of God’s majesty. How tiny he felt in their mighty, little navy warship. How much he loved me, Kim and Megan.

Those letters are tender, warm and cherished. They are a vital link to the man I love. Even now, it is sometimes difficult to get Fred to expose the vulnerabilities he shared in his mid-watch letters. I doubt we would be as close today if it hadn’t been for years of writing to each other, but there’s no way of proving that. What makes me feel grateful and amazed is that, in spite of the hardships of military life, God blessed me with one of my deepest desires—a desire I thought impossible because we were apart.

Only God could lay the groundwork for tenderness and intimacy between my husband and me when we were physically separated. And he did that through letters.

Martha Pope Gorris

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