Cell-Phone Soldier, Come Home Safe

Writer and actress Annabelle Gurwitch took her cell phone in to be repaired recently. While there, she met a young soldier, and found a little something to be grateful for.

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ANNABELLE GURWITCH: As the year comes to a close, it's time to focus on gratitude, and my personal list ranges from indoor plumbing, the return of the platform shoe and something that took me by complete surprise.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Actress, writer and DAY TO DAY contributor Annabelle Gurwitch.

GURWITCH: I was standing in line at my local Cingular Wireless store, where I was enduring a two-hour wait to replace my cell phone, which I had dropped one too many times.

Breaking a sweat, I had found myself over the last few weeks roaming the streets, frantically searching for a working pay phone, unmoored, adrift and unreachable. So when I finally reached the counter of the store, I was angry and indignant. I was practically foaming at the mouth, cursing the employees under my breath. And when they told me that they couldn't fix my phone, I was positively livid.

I was in the process of dressing down the salesperson when I was stopped in my tracks by the person next to me. This man, who is really a teenager, said he was leaving for duty in Iraq, and he wanted to know if he could keep his phone number on hold during the months of his tour.

He was told no, they didn't have a policy that would let him do that. He could put a hold on his account, but his number would change. Are you sure, he implored? My buddy said you could do that.

The salesperson went to check with the manager in the back, returned and stated that in order to do this, he would have to give them 180 days' notice. He looked stricken, and I felt a surge of anger. The idea that we couldn't make certain that a teenager could come home and be able to get phone calls from his friends telling him to meet them at the mall so they could get drunk in the parking lot after he's risked his life for us? Well, I had to step up.

So before I could think, I blurted out: I'll pay for his phone. He said his name was Randy(ph), and he was shipping out for his first tour of duty in Iraq. I didn't ask his last name because I knew that I would be checking the list of deceased soldiers if I did, and I didn't want to tell him my whole name because I didn't want him to feel indebted to me.

I just shook his hand, and I looked him in the eye, as if making a compact with him. You will return safely, I willed, and I wished him good luck.

When I got home, I called the Cingular company. It took over an hour and a half of waiting on the line to find out that they actually could have held Randy's number. But no one had bothered to tell their store employees, at least not in my neighborhood.

As I walked down the street that day, my scalp was tingling. I knew that I hadn't done anything big or of any lasting importance, but as I walked away, just knowing that Randy and I both had working phones whose numbers our friends and family all knew, and that I had been lucky enough to have the opportunity to show one soldier some appreciation, well, that seems like an awful lot to be grateful for this year.

BRAND: Actress Annabelle Gurwitch. Her documentary film, “Fired,” opens in theaters in late January.

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