Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Memorial Day- 1985/2010

The small town of Geneva, Illinois, is an hour drive from Chicago when traffic is good. The sleepy upscale suburb celebrates Memorial Day with a parade on Monday. People line the curb edges, hours in advance of the parade’s beginning, in order to secure spots on blankets or sit in folding camp chairs. While waiting for the band music to begin, cotton candy and ice-cream are sold. Face painters decorate the children’s cheeks with glittered rainbows, snakes, and hearts. Everyone is excited as they wait for the Shriners, in tiny motorized cars or miniature motorcycles, to zip through the center of town with the tassels on their fezzes flying. The children are gleeful to see each miniature vehicle as it weaves down South Main Street in figure eight patterns. Convertibles with hand waving, cubby town officials are interspersed between troops of western horses with silver bridles and decorated saddles. The high school band marches and plays fight songs. A twenty-foot model of a fish, towed by a tractor, reminds people that the Fox River, which intersects Main Street, is an integral part of the town’s 150 year history.
But the end of the parade, the year I was there, waving my American flag on a stick and cheering my son who was pulled at the head of the children’s wagon brigade by his father, was the most moving of all parades I have attended. A small group of veterans brought up the rear, behind the Shriners and after the twenty-foot fish. They were a rag tag group of soldiers in Vietnam military jackets and torn jeans. The six men silently marched down South Main, carrying the black MIA banner and flags from the war. Saigon had fallen ten years earlier, but the war still quietly raged within them.
My brother had fought in that war. Upon graduating from college, he was drafted away from his prestigious job, his long term girlfriend, and his family. He arrived in Viet Nam in time for the Tet Offensive, and then completed his year of combat as he was ordered to do. He never spoke of his military actions during that time. He did tell me that he had never wanted to kill another human being until he returned to home to the United States, to San Francisco, his port of entry back to safety. Dressed in his army uniform, as he carried his gear through to San Francisco Airport, travelers spit on him. Anger rages within him too.
As the Viet Nam veterans marched by the blankets and chairs which lined the curb along South Main Street, everyone rose, stood at attention, and saluted as they passed. These were the first salutes, spontaneously given, to honor the Viet Nam vets that I had observed. It had taken ten years. I could no longer hear the band music. Every observer stood in hushed reverie for those who had been lucky enough to return home.
Whether or not the Memorial Day parade watchers had agreed with the battle against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army, or marched against the conflict in protest, everyone stood to honor the few who passed before us. I could see the black flag as it disappeared down the street, carried for the soldiers who never came home. The sun shone, and in our silence, our hearts sang to honor their sacrifice. We sing today for their gift to our freedom. Happy Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Post

Dear Friends,
Here are my thoughts on Mother’s Day . I wanted to share them with you. These are thoughts that are off the cuff and unedited, but ones that I have been thinking about upon returning from Indonesia. This week as well, I have had several friends voice their concerns for me. I love having my friends care. Thank you. I have given some of you my reasons for my travels, plans for school, and raison d’etre. Overlaying all of this now is a sense of peace and happiness. This is what I want to attempt to explain. It comes from today’s gospel at church. If you decide at this point to stop reading, that’s ok too. Happy Mother’s Day. It’s a gorgeous, sunny day in Seattle. I hope your day is beautiful too.
When I dragged myself out of bed on Monday from being seriously jet lagged after my trip, I had a conversation about my state of being with a friend. I said that I did not know why I felt so happy and at peace. This was not true. I do know why I feel this way. I joked that if you put on paper the list of factors that affect my life, I should be in a fetal position. Twenty minutes before I left for Indonesia, I received an email with more disturbing news from the ex. Nothing surprising. Just more in a litany of legal issues and battles that simply should not be. But there they are, looming and waiting. Yet, I said to my friend, for some unknown reason, I am smiling and happy. Not completely a lie. The reason for feeling this way simply “surpasses our understanding,” or our ability to, in a rational earthly world, understand in logical terms. Here is what was read today from the gospel of John.
“…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. ….”
So, my peace comes from the Holy Spirit. It is without human logic. It comes out of faith, and it is what empowers me. It came to me in the night through prayer in October of 2007. Faith is something that comes to you as if you were taking a step off a cliff, knowing all the while, despite any logical thought to the contrary, that you will not fall to the rocks below, but will be suspended, held in mid air, safe until such time you no longer need to be sustained on earth. These thoughts are difficult to explain for a novice writer, and difficult to understand for many. They are as real to me as the rocks that line the bottom of cliffs. I hike. I see them.
I went to Indonesia for many reasons. One was for the ending of a novel, yet to be written. One was to learn to face fear, the fear of traveling across the world alone, of doing something new and risky. One was to swim with sharks, real and metaphorical. I have gone swimming with sharks. They scared me to death in French Polynesia as I floated on the surface and watched them being fed. I have always been swimming with sharks. You can read my poem about this. But sharks lie in wait for all of us.
What I discovered in Indonesia is that the sharks are not that important. They were not on the reefs that I explored; only baby ones hiding beneath table coral. In our lives, what matters is what happens all around us, and to drive the diving metaphor into the ground, or should I say, into the sea, the reefs are beautiful, filled with life abounding, and no one, animal or human, much cares where the sharks are or what they are doing. Existence continues in a kaleidoscope of color, texture and activity, beneath the surface of the ocean, just as above. We all swim in search of food and pleasure, and live our lives out as long as we can. If we are lucky, and here I go again, we have a school of fish with which to swim. Sorry, my comparisons are tiring, but scuba diving boarders on a metaphysical experience for me.
I did find human shark in Indonesia. I found that I could handle them. I could swim with shark without letting the experience distort or distract from the beauty of swimming in the coral reefs. Wow, isn’t life beautiful?
So on this Mother’s Day, I wish you what I feel, peace, happiness, and an appreciation for the beauty around us. I will be ok. Thank you for your concern. I also wish you a school of brightly colored fish with which to swim, metaphorically and real. 
Tula- May 9, 2010