I just want you to know that we're really having fun reading what the children had to say in all of those letters. Please tell your students that they made our day and we said thank you.
Imagine this soldier, a stranger really, in the desert, a long long way from home, right before the holidays, looking up our phone number and calling long distance to thank us. For thanking them.
At that point in the morning, it hadn't even been twenty minutes since I'd stood in front of our students at our community gathering and told them that we'd sent 83 boxes to 27 soldiers, asking them to estimate how many boxes each soldier got and adding that we'd sent about 800 letters and challenging them to figure out approximately how many letters we put in each box. Then I tried to elevate their empathy by asking them to predict how our letters made the soldiers feel.
I didn't have to predict anymore because the Captain was on the line telling me how those letters made him feel. I asked if he knew what his connection to our school community was and he said he had no idea. I checked my paperwork and his connection was indeed heaven-sent.
You see, I had a special student at Clear Creek High School many years ago who was called from the comforts of college post 9-11 to enlist in the Army so that he could help the children find peace in those war-torn countries. Ray Joseph Hutchinson was a compassionate, courageous young hero who went willingly to fight against terrorists and the injustices against children. And when it was his turn to come home, Ray Joseph traded places with a comrade who was a young father yearning to be reunited with his children. That would ultimately be Ray Joseph's legacy, putting others first. Two days later, the very terrorists whom he was trying to protect the children from planted the explosive devise that detonated and took him from this earthly home to his heavenly home.
A retired marine and friend of their family sent us the addresses of a few soldiers that we could support. So Ray Joseph was really our connection to the Captain, and I couldn't wait to share it with his mom. This wasn't an email story, so after I hung up with my long-distance call, I dialed Deborah and told her that, in a weird way, it felt like I'd heard Ray Joseph's voice on the other end of that overseas call. She didn't doubt it, and that's when she reminded me that it was exactly nine years to the day since her son had called her from Iraq, the last time she would ever hear his voice. She still aches for him every day and beautifully processes her feelings through the portraits she paints. This heavenly one she lovingly calls Hutch:
We cried together and she thanked me for remembering Ray Joseph and keeping his memory alive through service projects like SOS. I will never forget Ray Joseph - ever - and I feel just a little bit closer to him today because of those boxes and a heavenly call from Afghanistan.