“Dap came to the door that night and moved quietly among the beds, touching a hand here, a forehead there. Where he went there was more crying, not less. The touch of kindness in this frightening place was enough to push some over the edge into tears” (pg. 44)
This quote from today’s reading of Ender’s Game struck home with me. I’ll never forget Marine Corps boot camp. The first few days were whirlwinds of chaos – screaming, running, pushing, crying, silently questioning “why? Why? What have I gotten myself into?” There was cocktail of emotions pumping through each recruit’s veins – nervousness, excitement, fear, doubt, curiosity, pride. When we were a week or two into training, the emotions were all there, but muted by the daily routines of boot camp – waking, dressing, eating, marching, running, pushing, training.
Then I fractured my hip. Around training day 10 (about two and a half weeks into boot camp), I began limping, and my senior drill instructor sent me to get an x-ray. There was a small stress fracture on my hip, right where the ball of the femur meets the hip socket. My senior drill instructor took me into her office to have a talk with me. She told me I was going to be dropped in training. “Okay, that’s fine,” I thought. “I’ll be here a little longer, but I’ll get back to training stronger than before.”
Then I went to the Female Readiness Platoon. It was a miserable place to be. Injured recruits like me were shoved into a room with the sick, the recruits who couldn’t pass their initial physical test – and the dropouts. The dropouts were the worst. They were the ones who had gone to boot camp, and couldn’t “hack it.” Their low morale was like a virus, spreading from recruit to recruit, until we all wanted to be nowhere but home. I didn’t feel that way when I said goodbye to my family. I didn’t feel that way when I first got to boot camp. I didn’t feel that when I got yelled at, or punished, or even when I fractured my hip. But I felt that way when I was stagnant – not moving forward or backward in my training, contracting the virus of misery.
When I and been in FRP for about a month (I was there two months total), a group of women came to visit. They were moms from the surrounding areas who had sons who were Marines – some of them even had children who were at boot camp while I was there. They brought candy (which we, of course, had to hand in to the drill instructors – I’m sure they enjoyed it all), and spoke to all of us about keeping our heads up and getting back into training.
Then they did something that seemed so foreign – they hugged each and every one of us.
I still tear up now thinking about that moment. These strangers – who didn’t know our names, and who we would never meet again – knew how desperately we needed their kindness – just a bit of gentle human-to-human contact we were so long deprived of. There was not a dry eye in the room. It made me think of my own mother, who I knew would have done anything to hug me at that moment. It made me think of how long I had been gone, and how much longer I was going to be there. I felt a rush of emotion fill me as my pride, my motivation and my spirit returned to me – from something as simple as a hug from a stranger.
Like Ender writes of the simple kindness from the platoon “mom” at their first terrifying night at training, “The touch of kindness in this frightening place was enough to push some over the edge into tears.” Sometimes all a person needs is a tiny touch of kindness to realize there is still some tenderness and warmth in their life.