veteransIt’s been almost two months since we returned from Vietnam and I think I’ve done pretty well at re-entry. There was that little fender-bender in the parking lot but I like to think I’ve recovered nicely and am no longer a menace to society. Still there was a lot missing. The trip had ended with a celebratory dinner at a lovely restaurant lit by candlelight as we left because Hanoi was observing Earth Hour. Then there was the flight home with its unexpected drama that kept me distracted and then everyone was gone, disappearing onto connecting flights, or family visits or, evidently, just into the night. I got home to a chorus of “How was your trip?” and I was too dazed to answer coherently. Part of me was still in Vietnam, my body not yet integrated with memory. The passage from one state to another is fragile, tenuous, neither this nor that, here nor there. It is border territory located in time, dangerous and spooky. I yearned for companionship.

So it was both a pleasure and a relief to be able to spend a week with some of my fellow travelers, talking, laughing, enjoying the Finger Lakes in late spring. It was easy to rehash the ups and downs, listing what we wished we had done, what we wanted more of, or less of, and then to say again how glad we were that we had done it.  It felt good just to know other people were there, people who knew, and who cared about knowing.

I watched us as the days went by, noticing what began to come up underneath the reminiscences. We weren’t content with the trip being all about us. We didn’t want to dwell on how great it had all been. When the talk lulled we sought out the younger generation. We had breakfast with the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and dinner with my own children who are distanced from that war and yet inevitably affected. We visited Veterans’ Sanctuary, an organic farm where Iraq and Afghanistan veterans process their experiences within a supportive community. I remembered the alienation I had felt from my parents and, perhaps not wanting that to happen again, I saw us as “the older generation” and welcomed the role.

So we visited the garden to support and to learn. We talked about raised beds and deer. We admired the garlic, identified herbs, and commiserated over stinging nettle. The two veterans walked away on their own, the Iraq vet and the Vietnam vet, just there, together, talking about growing things. I watched them go, feeling the poignancy. I had worked to oppose a war, thinking, I suppose, that if that one could be ended no one would want to start another. I am wiser now and sadder. It turns out I don’t know how to stop another generation from going to war. But when they come back I will walk the land with them.