(Author's Note: There are mini-spoilers in here for various episodes from seasons 4 through 7.)
"All right then," Sidney said when everyone had finished writing. Most of them were looking down at the table, their hands covering the slips of paper in front of them. Sidney smiled; this was going to be a corker of a session, he could tell. "Who wants to go first?"
Nobody said a word. He waited. He almost expected some of them to start whistling in that nonchalant, "I got nothin' to say" way. The silence stretched out. But each one of them had written something down; he knew because he'd watched.
"Radar?" he finally said, just picking somebody at random.
"What?!" The poor corporal looked completely unnerved.
"Would you like to read what you wrote down on your paper? I know there's something written there. Why don't you share with the class?" He smiled to show there was nothing mean-spirited about this exercise. It was imperative, if they were going to get back to working together in harmony, that they air their grievances.
The 4077th had gone a little loopy the last week or so, according to Sherm Potter. Everyone at each other's throats. Griping, sniping, pick, pick, pick. Finally in exasperation, he'd placed a call to Sidney… could he come and talk to the folks again, as he'd done a couple times in the past when they got all uppity like this? Certainly, Sidney had agreed. But once here, he'd realized pretty quickly that one-on-one sessions weren't going to work this time. They needed to get everything out in the open, as a group, like the family they were.
And so here they all sat around a table in the O Club, having just written down their individual complaints about the others or the work or the conditions… whatever was bothering them.
And now Radar was looking a little close to mortified as he was asked to read what he'd put to paper. "Do I have to?"
Sidney nodded patiently. "That's why we're here. Just putting it on paper doesn't help much, does it? The others need to hear what your issues are. Only then can they try to correct their behavior…"
"Oh it's really nothing, sir," Radar said, turning slightly red. "I just—I wrote something down 'cause you made me…"
"Even so, let's hear it, all right?" He tried not to sigh out of frustration. This was like pulling teeth, and they had only just gotten started.
"Well, OK." Radar picked up the paper and read as though everything on it had been written by some phantom company clerk he had no control over. "I, uh… I don't like it when people make fun of my teddy bear. And I don't like the short jokes. But most of all, I don't like being taken for granted. I may not be a doctor or nurse, but I do a lot of work and I think I do it pretty good, and I wouldn't mind if people took notice every now and then."
He'd worked up to a full head of steam and now he abruptly stopped talking, looking upset. "But really, it's not that big a deal," he added with a shrug.
Sidney nodded. "Thank you, Radar. A good start. We'll continue right around the circle, then. Father Mulcahy?"
The good Father gave a sheepish look. "I only wrote down the Lord's Prayer," he said, showing his paper. "Because everyone else was writing, and I thought it would look bad if I didn't."
"But isn't there anything at all bothering you? Col. Potter here said everyone was sniping at everyone. Even the camp priest is human… surely you have something you'd like to get off your chest."
Mulcahy seemed to give it some thought and then said, "Well, if I have to lodge some kind of complaint, I guess I'd say that I'm hurt that practically nobody comes to my services. Except for Klinger, but I suspect that's mainly so he can wear his Sunday best."
Klinger piped up, "But they're beautiful dresses, aren't they, Father? I work really hard on them."
"Uh, yes, of course," Mulcahy said, sounding a bit miffed that the dresses were Klinger's only concern regarding church services. "You do fine work, Klinger."
"Very well, Father," Sidney said, moving right along. "Margaret? What have you written down? It seemed like you were practically writing a novel there."
She cleared her throat, then launched into her laundry list of grievances. "Number one, I wish this place were more disciplined, no offense to Col. Potter, who does the best he can with the riff-raff under him…"
"Does she mean us, Riff?" Hawkeye asked, interrupting her.
"I think she does, Raff," B.J. replied with mock indignation.
Sidney gave them a look. "That's enough, boys. Go on, Margaret."
"Number two, I really wish there was more professionalism in the OR. I mean, that's the one place where you would expect draftee doctors to be on their best behavior. Number three, I'm tired of the demeaning jokes—"
Sidney cut her off, treading carefully. "Margaret, I sense a trend here. I think we can file all of your complaints under the simple heading of 'things are a bit too loose for Margaret's liking,' don't you agree?"
She skimmed over the rest of her list and reluctantly nodded. "Yes, I suppose you're right, Doctor."
"I'm sorry to steal your thunder, as it were, but we have to hear from everyone."
She nodded, "Quite all right. I'll just give you my itemized list afterward."
Sidney forced a smile, though what he was thinking was: oh boy, lucky me. "Major Winchester?"
"Well, what I wrote down was that I resent having to share quarters with two pubescent pranksters—"
Hawkeye smacked B.J. on the arm and announced, "We went from riff-raff to pubescent pranksters, Beej. Do you think that's a promotion?"
"I don't know," B.J. said with a smirk, "but I notice that we always seem to inspire alliteration."
They laughed but Sidney gave them a hard stare and they immediately clammed up.
Winchester, not fazed in the least, went on, "And although that was all I wrote down, I'd have to say that's only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The living conditions in general are abysmal, the food is indigestible, and the work is well below my talent level." He sniffed in his pompous way.
"Duly noted, Major," Sidney said. "Klinger, you're up next."
"As if everyone in this room doesn't already know my complaint! I want out! I have always wanted out!" His arms flew into the air as he passionately gestured. "And nobody appreciates my clothing! It's hard work, sewing these outfits!"
Col. Potter, on the corporal's immediate right, put a hand on his shoulder and said, "We do appreciate your workmanship, Klinger. I guess we just don't say it often enough. Why, I'd like you to send some of your patterns to Mildred, they'd look lovely on her."
This seemed to soothe Klinger somewhat, and he said a soft "Thank you, sir," to the Colonel.
"Col. Potter?" Sidney asked with raised eyebrows. "You're not exempt from this exercise just because you're the boss."
"Of course, Sidney, I wouldn't expect to be. My main complaint is that I have to call in somebody like you when the going gets rough around here. We're family and we ought to be able to tackle these problems ourselves, but it gets too out of hand, and the next thing I know, I have to call in a psychiatrist to get control of my own outfit." He shook his head. "I'm glad we're doing this, Sidney. Thank you."
"You're quite welcome. We may not be able to fix everything right off the bat, but we can all sit here and listen to everyone's comments and at least work toward some kind of solution. Now… how about you, B.J.?"
"Well," he drawled, "not naming any names, but it's not much fun when someone you have to work with and live with treats you like some lower life form… when after all, you're an educated, thoroughly professional doctor…"
"Ha!" snapped Charles, who had obviously cracked B.J.'s code. "Professional, you say? Prove it!"
Sidney put his hands up, stopping things before they got started. "Now now. We're supposed to be listening without judgment. That was one of the ground rules, remember? Thank you, B.J. And now we come to Hawkeye."
He gave one of his coy smiles. "Saving the best for last, huh?"
Sidney wasn't going to play. "What did you write down, Hawkeye?"
"I wrote, 'Roses are red, emeralds are green, you are the cutest, nurse I have seen.' Not my best work, but all it has to do is sufficiently flatter Nurse Jacobs so she'll agree to go out with me tomorrow night."
Sidney rolled his eyes. "So you're saying you have no gripes that you'd like to share with the group?"
"Just the usual, Sidney. Bad food, not enough sleep, too much work, being called a pubescent prankster. Everything that's always bothered me."
"All right then, I think we've gotten the general idea here," Sidney said as he looked at the assembled group. "This seems to be a case of 'too close'-itis. You all are living in each other's pockets and after a while, that takes a toll. You live together, work together, eat together, in some cases even shower together."
"You said it, Doc!" Hawkeye said with a telling glare at his best friend. "Do we really need to shower together every day, Beej?"
"Well all right, then!" B.J. barked back. "It'll be a pleasure to take a break from looking at your scrawny body—"
"What are you doing looking at it?" said Hawkeye, feigning horror. He pulled his collar closed at his neck.
Sidney sighed audibly. He couldn't help it. "Boys, that is really enough. Let's stay on track here. I'm about to prescribe what I think could be a very effective antidote."
"What's that, Sid?" Potter asked, leaning forward. He seemed to be chomping at the bit for an end to the camp-wide tension.
"I want everybody to take that second slip of paper in front of you… yes, that's right, those papers… and this time, instead of writing down your gripes… write down what you admire or love or appreciate about the people around you."
Charles raised his hand and Sidney, anticipating the question, said, "Yes, Major, everyone does have to participate." Even though it was barely audible, he heard Winchester's grumbling. "OK, pencils at the ready, everyone. Go ahead and write!" He tried to sound enthusiastic in the hopes it would catch on.
It sure didn't seem to.
Nevertheless, he patiently waited as the eight of them thought and pondered, looked around the circle and thought some more, and then finally began to write.
And a funny thing happened then. It may have taken them some time to get started, but once they did, the pencils began to move faster and faster over the papers. Instead of one or two sentences, many of them were writing paragraphs. Sidney watched, pleased, as smiles formed on unguarded faces.
"OK!" he finally said, giving a single clap. "Now let's share these notes, shall we?"
He looked around at a much different group… more cheerful, more relaxed, even somewhat bewildered. "Let's start with you, Radar, and we'll go in the same order as before."
Instead of looking horrified at having to speak, Radar showed off his dimples and jumped right in. "I wrote down that I really admire the doctors and the nurses, because they save lives and they're so calm while they're doing it. They all know so much! I mean, holy cow, I couldn't keep even half of that stuff in my head. And when I needed my tonsils out, everyone took real good care of me. I was worried, but they told me I'd be OK. And they ended up getting ice cream for me afterward, which felt great on my throat."
"Excellent, Radar, thank you," Sidney said, relieved that this appeared to be going in the direction he'd hoped. "Father?"
"Well, I wrote down how grateful I am to be of service here, that the Lord gave me this opportunity. And that I'm privileged to be able to work alongside these dedicated people. Everyone here is so wonderful about lending moral support. A few times, I've felt ineffective and a little down in the dumps, but somebody's always around to give me a pep talk." He shyly looked in Hawkeye's direction.
"Wonderful, Father. Margaret?"
"Going through my divorce has been difficult, but Father Mulcahy is right: everyone here watches out for everyone else. I got very emotional one day because this dog I'd become attached to got run over by a jeep. Hawkeye let me cry on his shoulder—he encouraged me to let it all out. That's so important around here… taking care of each other like that. Even though I tend to complain about how juvenile these guys can be, I feel like everyone in this room is family." Her voice had grown emotional while she talked, and now she sniffled a little.
Sidney handed her a handkerchief and nodded. "That was beautiful, Margaret. Major Winchester?"
Charles blushed the slightest bit and seemed unwilling to speak. Sidney pointed at the paper in front of him, "Come on, Major. There are words written there, I can see them. Please let everyone know what's on your mind."
After another moment's hesitation, he acquiesced, "Well, all right. I wrote that, while I am often at odds with Pierce and Hunnicutt, I am most grateful that they have been there to help me when I've needed it. I was especially thinking of the time I went a bit overboard taking some medication I perhaps shouldn't have been taking. Gentlemen, I don't believe I ever properly thanked you for that, but your assistance was very much appreciated. I realize that we may have vastly different personalities and backgrounds, but we can lean on each other to get through difficult times."
Hawkeye and B.J. exchanged surprised looks, then nodded at Charles to acknowledge his words.
"Tremendous," Sidney said, feeling the thaw in the room growing by the minute. "Klinger, you're next."
"I may not be much for the Army," Klinger said, "but if I have to serve in it, I am thankful that I'm at this unit and with these people. Sure, it's true that Col. Potter won't give in and grant me a Section 8, but I love him like a father anyway. When I ask him to pick up some fabric for me in Tokyo, he doesn't say, 'Klinger, stop with the crazy schemes already.' No, he says, 'Of course, I'll get you whatever you need.' What a prince! And I'm thankful to have a friend like Radar—"
Hearing this, Radar beamed.
"—because it's good to have somebody to talk to sometimes, get all your frustrations off your chest, even if there isn't anything they can do to help you." He looked over at Radar with a smile.
Sidney was delighted at how well this was going. The vibe in the room had taken a dramatic turn since they'd started reading these positive comments; it was as if a strong wind had come along and blown out all the earlier conflict. "Sherm? How about you?"
Potter cleared his throat and said, "I love that these folks accepted me with open arms when I arrived, even though I was regular Army and I'm sure that made them nervous. I wasn't even here very long when they helped me celebrate my wedding anniversary by giving me some very thoughtful gifts, including my beloved horse, Sophie. Thank you, Radar." He paused to gather himself, then went on, "I should say it more often: I'm proud of you all. I've never been more impressed with a group of people in my life. Undisciplined? Sure. Off-the-wall? You bet. But I think that's the reason we're so successful in what we do. I wouldn't want to turn this into a spit-and-polish unit because I'm sure we'd lose that intangible in the process. That intangible that makes us so damn good as a team."
Now a few people were sniffling, not just Margaret. Sidney was even a little teary-eyed himself. "Now this is what I like to hear!" he said. "B.J., please share your thoughts."
B.J. looked around the group, his expression serious and full of love. "I've learned so much from everyone here. I'm a much better doctor than I ever dreamed I could be. You remember when I had to do that gastrectomy, literally going step-by-step from the book? I was nervous as hell, but I could feel everyone pulling for me. Your confidence in me helped so much. I agree with Margaret… you people are my family away from my other family. It's hard, being separated from my wife and daughter, but if I had to be thrust into a war, I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to be with. Col. Potter, you are an inspiration to me. The way you command this unit of lunatics… I am in constant awe. And Hawkeye, you're the best friend I've ever had. We may squabble, but I'll always love you like a brother."
He leaned toward Hawkeye for an impromptu hug and the two of them clumsily bumped foreheads and everyone laughed.
"This is getting too mushy!" Klinger said, wiping at his eyes.
"No, this is good," Sidney pointed out. "This is exactly what all of you needed to hear. We have one more person to go… Hawkeye?"
"Well, normally I would make a joke here… you know me, I would try to hide my true feelings behind some sarcastic comment. But since everyone else has been so open, I'll tell you what I wrote." He paused for dramatic effect, then recited, "'Roses are red, blood is red too, is it any wonder, we're all feeling blue?'"
Everyone groaned and Margaret threw her pencil at him. "Come on, Pierce! Is that any way to act, when all the rest of us—even Charles!—have been serious and honest?"
Sidney nodded. "That's right, Hawkeye. Everyone at this table deserves to hear something complimentary from you. It's only fair."
Holding up a hand and looking contrite, Hawkeye said, "You're right, I'm sorry. Truth is, it would've taken me hours to write down everything I admire and love about the people sitting around this table. As you all have stated already, we are a family, and in some ways, we are actually closer than family. Radar, you never cease to amaze me with how efficient and hard-working you are. We really do notice. Your wheeling and dealing has saved us on many occasions! Margaret, you're a dedicated professional… the reason our nursing staff is so fantastic is because of you. Father, you are the most decent human being I've ever met, and I'm honored to call you my friend. Charles, you make me strive to be a better doctor, if only because I can't stand to be bested by somebody else. Klinger, you are so persistent… you're like a bulldog, the way you keep reaching for your goal even though most people would've given up ages ago. That's admirable. Col. Potter, like B.J. already said, it's incredible the way you run this camp. How you command respect while still being friends with the folks under you. That is such a delicate balance, and you do it well. And Beej… you're my brother, too. My support system and my best friend and my confidant. I'd be lost without you. So yeah… I look around this circle and I see a family. Every now and then, families fight… tangle… get on each other's nerves. It's natural. But even when that's happening, I think we all know, deep down, that there is nobody else we'd rather be with as we go through this hell."
When he finished, a silence fell over the group. Sidney saw tears glistening on a few cheeks. The serenity in the room was almost overwhelming. The earlier harsh words were long forgotten now; admiration and love had become the predominant feelings. Such a satisfying resolution. This was almost more than he'd hoped for.
Just as he was starting to compose in his head some kind of summary of what they'd all discovered (assuming he could come up with something better than what Hawkeye had said), the P.A. cut into his thoughts: "Attention all personnel! Incoming choppers—lots of 'em! Everyone report to the OR on the double."
With weary sighs, everyone looked around at everyone else and, without a word, got up and headed out of the O Club.
Sidney rose from the table and moved off to the side, out of their way. "I'm not sure if I'm one of the family or if I'm just some distant cousin who visits now and then," he said, "but I'll tell you what I do know. You are all my heroes."
They ran off to the hospital to do their jobs, and Sidney stood alone in the O Club, his hands on his hips, feeling satisfied that he'd done his.