DEAR MISS MANNERS: In an e-mail from a high school friend with whom I had only recently reconnected, he told me about his pain at seeing his daughter off at the airport as she headed for distant lands to spend a year teaching English.
He followed this with the comment that he was sure I'd understand because he knew my son had gone to Afghanistan.
Miss Manners, as the destination would indicate, my son was not going off on some exciting cross-cultural adventure. He was an Army Sapper. This means he and his squad were hiking out miles away from any base on their own -- sometimes as few as four solders.
When he left, one of my daughters calculated the odds of him making it home alive. I was terrified the entire time he was gone and would definitely have resorted to pharmaceuticals if I hadn't had wonderful support from friends and family.
In person, my first impulse is almost always to be nice when someone makes a careless remark. If the friend had said this to me in person, even I might have snapped something like, "Oh, are you expecting people to be shooting at her?" but since it was an e-mail, I have had time to consider, and that has only served to confuse.
My son is home safe and mostly OK. He's been discharged with only some disability. Unfortunately, on that same day, I got e-mails from some of the women who had family in my son's unit. One woman lost her son during that deployment. Another told me of her boy's hearing loss and PTSD. The third told of her nephew's struggles with recovering from severe brain trauma.
So perhaps I am just feeling a little overwrought.
My confusion stems from not knowing exactly when it is appropriate to drag out the soapbox -- ever so gently, of course. Should I say anything in my reply or not? Perhaps I could just send a regular note but include links to articles on the dangers and difficulties soldiers face in Afghanistan?
It wouldn't kill me to just ignore it. I know it was innocent and well meant, but it also strikes me as egregiously ignorant.
GENTLE READER-- Of course you are overwrought, as how could you not be? But as you have just seen, comparisons of worries -- and, for that matter, comparisons of children -- are offensive.
So why should you make them?
Your friend was addressing the fact that he misses his daughter and worries about her, knowing that you missed your son and worried about him. Yes, there is a order of magnitude difference -- but there is also an order of magnitude difference between your situation now and that of the ladies who sought your comfort and sympathy.
You would not have cared to have them bitterly compare the outcome for your son in contrast to their relatives' fate.
So Miss Manners begs you to let this go if you can. And if you cannot, then please confine yourself to saying that you are grateful that your friend's daughter will not be in harm's way.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I often have one to four guests over to my home to watch a movie with me. Inevitably, one of us has to leave the room to attend to, ah, some sort of personal business.
What is the etiquette when this happens? Do we stop the movie and wait for the person to come back or make the one who leaves miss part of it? Sometimes it's just 60 seconds to use the restroom, but sometimes I have to go attend to my toddler son if he wakes up, and that can take 15 minutes or so.
GENTLE READER: It is called an intermission, and Miss Manners suggests that you give advance notice of scheduling one. And that you do not serve beer.