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April 24, 2007

Waking Up As Clarissa

Kelly's column is reprinted with permission from The Hills Newspaper Group.

A long time ago [read: before cell phones], I read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in an undergrad Lit class. I don’t remember the story all that well but I believe it’s set in London just after the first World War and everything happens in a single day. I’m pretty sure it’s springtime. There’s this Mrs. Dalloway who’s planning a party and there’s a disturbed war veteran struggling to reassimilate and these two plots unfold simultaneously. In one chapter, Mrs. Dalloway carefully selects flowers for her centerpieces and in the next, a wife broach the topic of an asylum to her husband, the vet who’s being haunted by battlefield images.

I recall that in our class discussion, swimming in our shapeless Benetton sweaters, we gals felt mighty superior to Clarissa Dalloway and her pitiful commitment to the hostess arts. “She’s so disconnected…isolated…shallow.”

It’s easy to think you’ll be different when it’s your turn to be a forty year-old suburban woman. But once you get here—to the leafy small town, to middle age—it is an act of will to continually balance a life of comfort and privilege with a life of engagement and compassion. This is particularly apropos now, when the war in Iraq goes on and on for about 140,000 American families while all other families go untouched. Not only have most of us not sacrificed in any measurable way but, at least in my home, when we talk about Iraq, it’s all politics and the ‘08 presidential election and the mounting costs. I can hardly think of a time when we discussed the soldiers and their families.

Rather then berate myself in print, I'll just tell you what corrective measures we've taken around here.

In addition to saying a prayer each night for the men and women sleeping uneasily in their makeshift barracks so far from home [which involves visualizing the soldiers and imagining what they eat, the sounds they hear, the letters under their pillows], I wanted to share a website I’ve found that will send a soldier in Iraq a care package for about $20 all in. Boxes go out in large shipments once a month and include; cereal bars, packets of Gatorade, AA batteries, phone cards, sunflower seeds, tube socks, beef jerky and playing cards. Beyond these “treats,” the organization also packs up what seem like essentials; dental floss, sun block, bug repellant, tube socks and chap stick. Maybe best of all are letters from school children that say, “We think about you. We are proud of you. We can’t wait until you come home.”

So this weekend, before you slide into your party shoes, please visit www.forgottensoldiers.org. I’m betting it’ll make the party that much better. It did for us.