Vietnam: Sorting it Out

 

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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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Reasons why Women Cheat

 

 

An exclusive committment to another person is difficult.  Studies show that most women will be unfaithful at least once, most likely within the first 3 years of their relationship.  Some of these indiscretions will lead to irreparable damage and permanent separation.  I recently met with a group of women who discussed possible reasons for unfaithfulness and came up with the following list.

Women cheat because:

1.   * X just doesn’t do it like they used to do it.

2.  *X doesn’t understand the picture we show of how we want it.

3.  *X used to make us feel beautiful, but suddenly forgot how.

4.  *X doesn’t listen anymore.

5.  We get bored and need a change

6.   We get tired of waiting longer and longer for a little attention.

7.  The cost of being faithful keeps going up and we are not willing to pay the price anymore.

 

Admittedly, all of us have cheated and tried to get satisfaction from another and we know how it feels when you accidentally run into your X.  You pretend not to see them or feign a weak smile, struggling to ignore the clinching in your stomach.  Such an encounter causes some of us to remember that our X was really pretty great.  The pics you’ve saved on your smart phone prove it.  You realize that your current relationship, which started out with a bang is now getting tired and shapeless.  The same issues you had with your X keep cropping up in your current relationship (and maybe even some new ones).  Perhaps you were really better off with your X.  You remember how good you had it before you cheated.   If you had it to do all over again, you probably wouldn’t have strayed.  You wonder if your X will take you back.

You muster up all your courage and make the call.  You eat a little piece of humble pie as you ask the receptionist to make an appointment with your X for color and a hair-cut on Wednesday at 1:00.
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(* X refers to former hairdresser-just in case I need to clarify)

An open letter to my Grandson

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Dear Cole,

You are one of the great gifts of my life, the gift that made me a grand person.  It will be many years before you know what that means because it is a secret reserved for grandparents alone.  You may gather clues along the way that may help you imagine what it is like to love someone as much as your grandfather and I love you, and I will try to describe it now, on this, your tenth birthday.

When you were born and I first held you, I immediately realized that you were the one.  The one that would fill a place in my arms and heart that had been specifically designed and reserved for you. You have filled that place with joy ever since.  You captured me with your laugh and your smile,  a smile that I’ve watched through many changes.  I loved your baby smile that was all gum and then you got your tiny teeth.  In a little while those baby teeth came loose and you put each one under your pillow and flashed a jack-o-lantern type grin.  Now your face beams with metal covered teeth and multi-color bands, but no matter what’s going on with your teeth, your smile is the one that makes me know that all is well with the world.

When I hear your voice call my name and see you running up to give me a hug, I could explode with happiness.  I love everything about you, just because you are you.   I can see evidence of the man you are growing up to be and I can see God at work in you.  He has given you good qualities and abilities, friends and family, challenges and opportunities.

You love athletics and you play hard and well.  You want to win but seem to know that winning is not everything and that you can learn valuable lessons from losing.  When your performance disappoints you, you sometimes show it, but you know how to shake it off.  You enjoy playing with others but are happy to be alone.  I love the worlds you make with your imagination.  You allow others, like me, into your wonderful world of legos and superheros.  You share your magical creations and you let me help.  You are patient with me.  We share stories and movies, games and music.  I think that you really like music.  Music seems to move effortlessly through your veins because the way you sing and dance is uniquely your own, reflecting your easy, soulful, carefree, elegant style.

You notice the people around you and you care about them.  You are kind.  You love your sister and are respectful to your parents.  You have friends.  When you argue with your sister or your friends you stick up for your beliefs.  Sometimes you get angry but you are quick to say you are sorry.  You forgive and move on.  You do not hold a grudge.  You are generous and you are grateful.

You are so smart.  You have the gift of a dyslexic mind.  You will continue to discover the brilliance of that mind.  It took some special teachers and a lot of hard work on your part to learn to read, but wow, once you did, you can not put your books away.  I don’t know of too many kids who read all 7 Harry Potter books before they were ten years old.  I think you appreciate reading much more than most kids your age.  My own theory is that the Dyslexic mind is so brilliant the rest of us couldn’t understand all that’s in it all at once, so it’s kind of locked up.  It is a puzzle that will frustrate, entertain and amaze you all your life as you keep discovering what you have to offer the world.  I am so very, very proud of you.

At grandparents day you asked me the question:  “What advice do you want to give me?”  I had to answer quickly.

Now that I’ve had time to think about it, my answer remains the same,  Always believe that you are as wonderful as your Pepper and Nee Nee think you are.

Happy birthday, Cole.