“The Holidays: A time of year when people who otherwise try to avoid each other can’t.”
— Stephan Pastis
It takes a certain kind of ass to quote himself at the beginning of his own blog. Fortunately, that’s me.
But I think I’m more than just an ass. I’m also a misanthrope.
I don’t like people. I don’t like parties. I don’t like the holidays.
Given that, the following will be woefully out of character.
Purists, look away.
. . .
We have in this country an all-volunteer army. It creates two parallel universes.
One is at home getting their latte from Starbucks, upset that the best the cable company can do is give them a four-hour window for their appointment. One is standing in 100 degree heat with 130 pounds of gear on their back, 9,000 miles from home, trying not to get killed.
The two groups’ collective experiences create a chasm deep and wide enough as to be seemingly unbridgeable.
But I learned on my USO trip to Iraq that it is bridgeable.
I have never been thanked by anyone as I was by those soldiers we visited in hospitals and on military bases. Their thanks were as sincere and heartfelt as anything I’ve ever heard. And as much as it was for our being cartoonists whose strips they might enjoy, I think it was also simply because we were there.
I obviously can’t speak for any of them, but I think it has to be pretty difficult to be living under the conditions they live under while many people here appear to have no awareness that they are even over there. For everyone but their immediate friends and family, the war is something that just does not impact their lives.
I wish I could introduce them to you. They were sincere and direct and respectful to a degree I have never experienced in my day-to-day life here. And if something were to have posed a threat to any of us while we were there, I had no doubt they would have protected us before they protected themselves.
Obviously, you can’t pack your bags and book a Southwest flight to Baghdad. But that’s not necessary. Because it doesn’t take flying to Baghdad to have an impact.
You see, things that might not mean much in your daily routine — the receipt of a package, a letter, a phone call, an email — can mean the world to one of them. It makes the gap between us and them that much smaller. So whatever you can do, no matter how small, do it. Do just one thing for one soldier in a hospital or overseas.
For me, I was fortunate enough to know a cartoonist named Jeff Bacon. While having absolutely no skill at ping pong and even less hair, he put together a trip under the sponsorship of the USO so that ten cartoonists could visit the military hospitals in Washington D.C. and Germany, and the military bases in Kuwait and Iraq. And it brought an unbelievable amount of joy to a huge number of people. As one dad said to us as we were leaving his wounded son’s hospital room, “That is the first time I’ve seen him smile since he got here.”
Of all the things I’ve been lucky enough to accomplish in my eight-year cartooning career, I have never been as proud of anything as I was to be associated with those other nine cartoonists: Jeff Bacon, Chip Bok, Bruce Higdon, Garry Trudeau, Rick Kirkman, Mike Peters, Mike Ramirez, Jeff Keane and Tom Richmond.
I may give them shit in this blog, but it’s only because I care for them like they were my own brothers.
Maybe I am starting to like people.