Her

Roadkill - Dead Deer on roadside.

 

I saw her again today.  It’s been awhile since her memory has come up and that is a good thing.  At first I thought that even time itself would never be able to erase her image from my mind.  I’m almost startled to realize that time has, in fact worked its magic and I’ve almost forgotten her.  But today, I see her again.

I am heading to Atlanta driving north on interstate 85 and I pass a deer lying rigid and still in the grass on the side of the road.  Its graceful and beautiful brown body is rigid, exposed and alone as hundreds of cars pass quickly by.  Several passengers glance at the deer for a moment, vaguely recognizing some form of mild indignity.

I pass by and think, “what a tragic injustice,” because I remember something else, someone else.  I see the deer and I think of her, the beautiful young South African girl.  A girl with no name of whom I am forever linked.  We share an eternal moment of unwanted intimacy.  She, the totally exposed and vulnerable one and I, the shocked and sickened voyeur.

I saw her shortly after the traffic began to slow.  My friend had planned a special day of lunch and shopping and we were moving along a busy highway.  We had been in the car for about 30 minutes enjoying each other’s company and the exquisite beauty of South Africa.  The last few miles gave me an opportunity to view the other South Africa and the inescapable evidence of extreme contrast.   I found myself unashamedly gawking at the township on my right through the privacy of my car window.  The township is a fantastic mosaic of cardboard, tin and wood strung together with a maze of electrical wire, littered with people and trash, and slung out as far as one can see.  I remember wanting to take it all in, absorb a bit of understanding as to how life is possible for the faceless thousands who eke out their existence in a place like this.  My friend suddenly applies the brakes and our car is forced into a slow-moving crawl.

We assume there must be a traffic accident up ahead which is quickly confirmed as we see a police vehicle.  As we approach the site there is a black automobile pulled over along the right hand side of the road and a woman who is visibly shaken, talking to a policeman, her arms crossed.  The windshield of her car is shattered into a million glass diamonds, some sparkling on the hood and some on the ground.  I look around for the other car involved in the accident.  There is no other car.

There is only a girl.  She has lovely brown skin and is hauntingly beautiful.  She is alone, uncovered and in repose.  Her body is being silently viewed by passer-byes who are slowed but not deterred from getting to their pre-determined destinations.  She landed at an odd angle against the concrete medium separating traffic going in opposite directions.  “She must have tried to hop over the barrier to get to the other side,”  my friend remarks.  “It has happened before.”

We are briefly horrified.  We pray for her soul.  We too pass by, propelled like the others in the tide of moving traffic.  We discuss possible ways to prevent another such tragedy.  We can’t seem to come up with any workable solution.  We continue on to Stellenbosch, mostly in silence, where we have a lovely lunch and do some shopping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Benji and the Drain Critter

One has to admire his tenacity, the clarity of his mission.  He is a sentinel whose job is to keep watch.  And watch he does.  Day after day he returns to the same spot.  His commitment is undeniable as he patiently stands guard.

What caused him to be so focused, so devoted?  Was the first time they made contact so extraordinary, so enticing that the thought of next time became his obsession?

His giddy enthusiasm for this seemingly futile enterprise causes others to take notice.  Some think he’s quite mad.   Some say he’s wasting his time.  Some mock him and his unrequited passion.  He hardly hears them.  He is undeterred.  

Perhaps he ignores the insults because he knows something they know nothing of, sees something they cannot see.  Perhaps he imagines a day when the doubters will be proven wrong, when the object of his longing re-appears.

I wonder if there is anything or anyone that I could be so passionate about, so sure of, that I would endure endless waiting and watching, fend of frequent mocking and do so with great exuberance and joy.  That kind of commitment just might require all of my heart, mind, soul and strength.

 

Vietnam: Sorting it Out

 

us-army-helicopters-pour-machine-gun-fire-into-the-tree-line-to-cover-the-advance-of-vietnamese-ground-troops-in-an-attack-on-a-viet-cong-camp-on-march-29-1965

 

On Tuesday, January 10, 2017, the New York Times International edition was on the carpet outside of my hotel room.  I was immediately drawn to an article in the Opinion section. It’s title: Vietnam:  The war that killed trust.  Half of the page displayed a photograph of helmeted soldiers canopied by dozens of helicopters, similar to scenes from news-clips seared in the minds of people, like me, who were adolescents in the late 1960’s.  The observation and opinion of the Vietnam Veteran who wrote the article is that prior to the war most people believed that our government was incapable of lying.  Since Vietnam the great majority of Americans are distrustful and cynical of our institutions, especially government.   I thought it ironic and a bit providential that I would be reading this paper at this time.  My husband and I were in Hong Kong, about to catch a plane for Vietnam.

Vietnam.  Just the word triggers confusion, angst and wonder in me.  I must have heard it thousands of times when I was young, associated with stories of the jungle, rice paddies, agent orange, the draft, Hanoi Jane, protesters, LBJ, helicopters, napalm, and death.  Vietnam, a country that changed all of us in ways we may never understand, especially those who served in the armed forces.  While I was learning to question those in authority, he was learning to be fiercely loyal, to respect authority, to make quick decisions and to obey orders.  He was discovering love of country, duty, and a cause of greater good.

He was returning, 48 years later, to a place that never really left him; to the memory of a 21-year-old boy and a war that tried and tested him in unimaginable ways.  I came with him, hoping to catch a bit of insight into who that boy was, to somehow get a taste of what it’s like to be a soldier and to sort out my feelings about Vietnam.

The Air-force taught him how to use a compass and a rifle, repel from helicopters, swim, scuba, parachute and to perform basic medical procedures. His job was to rescue downed pilots; his motto, That others may live; his challenge, to survive.  My schooling and my friends taught me how to peacefully protest a war that was costing thousands of lives, and a government that misinformed, misguided and mishandled the whole affair.

We were joined by two friends who flew half-way around the world to walk with him as he re-visited a world we knew so little about.  Our first stop Ho Chi Minh city, formerly Saigon. On descent I thanked God for allowing this soldier to live and I thought I would kiss the ground when we landed, but I didn’t.  Just like everywhere else, people were hurrying off the plane to get in line for customs and baggage claim.  They didn’t seem to recognize the gravity of the moment.

We took in the sites in HCMC and also in Da Nang and Hanoi.  I saw gorgeous beaches and lovely smiling faces, ancient looking fishing boats crammed together donning brilliant colored flags, surrounded by floating baskets.  We marveled at the new construction, office buildings, condos and expansive bridges.  One bridge shaped like a dragon breathes fire at night.  Most of the people dressed in western clothing but we saw some of them squatting as if sitting on invisible stools and wearing those iconic hats that look like lampshades. We tasted unexpected dishes from unknown cuisine.  We merged into the stream of motorcycles and cars weaving in and out like swarms of fish around our rented jeep.  We circled a place called Monkey Mountain but saw no monkeys.  We walked around an outdoor museum displaying tanks and planes and helicopters, captured from the war.  We visited a bar at China Beach and ran into an old American soldier who annually re-lives his glory days in a rented room above the bar. We flew in a sea-plane over Ha Long bay and ogled at the majestic tree covered limestone formations, blooming in the sea.  We had drinks in an elegant resort made from extensive spans of bamboo.

Of all the things we saw, he said that he was most surprised that his barracks and hanger were still standing on the far side of the runway in Da Nang.  I would have loved to see inside those barracks but we couldn’t get close; another space left to my imagination. A new terminal has been built since he was there.  It stands next to the old one as a micro picture of the whole country and my feelings – the new next to the old.  I remember staring across the tarmac at the place where he once lived, served, and completed the task he was given.  Was he putting on his boots for a mission at the same time I was singing to Country Joe and the Fish?

As we rode along taking in the sights, we exchanged bits of information and second-hand stories gleaned from books, articles, movies and rusty memories, asking him if anything happened here or there.  Over meals together we talked of many things, urging his perspective on this or that.   He, good-naturedly shared what he could.  With him you have to read between the antidotes.

I came expecting some sort of clarity in seeing Vietnam through his eyes, the eyes of my soldier.  I hoped to catch the spark of patriotism, duty and love of country that he has and become more like the disciplined, loyal, selfless man that he is.  But alas, I have only my eyes in which to view the world.  Perhaps one has to give something, maybe all of oneself in order to see the greater reality.  I once tried to understand how Martin Luther King, jr. changed my life and I wrote a blog about those awful days of segregation.  I read it to an older woman of color who grew up in Mississippi in the 30’s and 40’s.  She looked at me with thinly disguised disgust and said, “honey, you don’t know the half of it.”

I have put my feet on the soil of Vietnam.  I have seen her people, tasted her food.  I have loved a man who lived, fought, saved lives and survived her war.  I feel like I know something about that strange and wonderful country, but only as a detached observer.  I keep hearing the words of my old african-american friend in the mouths of imagined Vietnam Vets shaking their heads and saying, “honey, you don’t know the half of it.”