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Pea Soup for the Cynic's Soul

The Blind Meeting

During the Gulf War, Private Brent Smith, a young man of just barely twenty, corresponded daily with Miss Julie Farmington, a young lady he had never met nor seen. A private organization, specializing in matching single soldiers with pen pals, had "introduced" them to each other, and in no time they were writing each other all the time. With each new letter, they learned more about each other and grew to like each other very much. They shared many wonderful stories and experiences, learned to confide in each other, and developed a strong relationship of mutual respect, admiration, and love.

But while Julie was forthcoming in every other way, she would not send a picture of herself. Brent, while not proud of his looks, had sent his own picture early on. But when he asked Julie for hers, she declined.

"If I am pretty," she said, "I wouldn't know if you kept writing me just because of that. If I am not, I wouldn't know if you kept writing just because you don't have anyone else. Let me be faceless. When it's time for you to come home, you'll see me then. If you don't like what you see, we can end things right there, with nothing further spoken."

That was all she said about it. Brent let the matter drop, and the pair resumed their heart to heart correspondence.

And then, one day, the Gulf War was over, and Brent could go home. He wrote Julie and told her when and where he would fly in. Julie agreed to meet him at the airport. "I'll be the one wearing a white carnation. I remember what we agreed about our first meeting."

Needless to say, Brent was nervous. It was awkward, to say the least, to know someone so well and yet never to have met in person.

At the airport, Brent went through customs, gathered his luggage, and stood at the gate, looking around for a young lady with a white carnation. He checked the name label on his uniform, verifying that it was clearly visible, and stood patiently though nervously and waited.

Returning veterans greeted their families and loved ones all around him. The minutes ticked away, and the crowd at the gate thinned out, gradually dissipating. Brent wondered where she was but was confident she would show up soon.

A young, beautiful brunette in a beige hat walked by. Was it her? A young soldier hurried up to greet her, and the woman turned. No carnation. The pair hugged and walked off together.

Moments later, a young woman in a wide-brimmed hat -- a delicate shade of beige -- approached him. Her face was not pretty: her hair was flat and wispy, and her facial features didn't seem to fit together quite right. But there was spirit and enthusiasm in the sparkle in her eyes and a nervous hopefulness at their first words. She wore a white carnation on her lapel.

Brent took a deep breath. So this was his beloved pen pal. He smiled. "Miss Farmington?" he said with a light bow. "My name is Brent Smith. And I would be honored if I could accompany you to dinner."

The woman smiled and spoke. "Hi," she said, her voice ungracefully gruff. "Look, I don't know what this is all about, but a lady asked me to do her a favor. She asked me to wear this hat and flower and talk to you, and if you were to ask me out on a date, that I should tell you she's in the cafeteria over there -- the one in the blue dress."

So this was a test, Brent thought to himself. Brent recalled Julie's concern about her looks, and why men such as himself might be interested in her. He wondered what could have possibly happened to instill such insecurity.

"Thank you," he said to the lady and headed toward the cafeteria. He passed through the doorway and turned toward the seating area. A woman in a blue dress faced him.

"Hi," she said, smiling. "I hoped something so unimportant as looks wouldn't put you off. Please forgive me my little test. I hope someday you'll come to know me well enough to know why I had to know for sure."

"I'm sorry," Brent said gently. "I can't do this. I think...I think I'd better go."

"Oh, please don't," she said quickly, alarmed. "I'm so sorry. I promise never to do that again but to trust in your strength of character. I--"

"No, that's not it," Brent said.

"Then what is it?" she said urgently.

"Well. The other woman," he said gesturing toward where he had met the woman with the hat and carnation. "She wasn't very easy on the eyes. But're hideous. I mean, look at that shiny, bulbous nose -- it's huge! Your beady little eyes are sunken half way through your skull, and your scraggly hair looks like seaweed and corn silk. Your body bulges everywhere except where it should. Heavens, woman, are you human or some rare species of orangutan? I'm sorry. Looks aren't everything, but there are limits, you know?"

His eyes spoke an apology, but he said nothing further out loud. A moment later, he walked away and was gone.