From my window now, I try to look ahead
And know, remembering what’s been done and said
That we must always cherish, and reject, the dead.
The Limerick Train, Brendan Kennelly
This, to me, is the miracle of being human, this chance we have to live in two worlds at once, to see the opposites and hold them in some kind of tension that will leave us filled with wonder and not drive us mad.
I think this way as I approach being in Vietnam. It is the opportunity to honor death and relish life, for both are here. “In the midst of life we are in death,” it says in the Book of Common Prayer. The opposite is also true, for in the midst of death we are in life.
In his welcome, our guide repeated what we hear so often, that the young people don’t want to dwell on the war. The war was bad, he said, and both sides lost. Now is the time to be friends, for welcome and enjoyment. At the same time, he looks at both our veterans and touches his heart and says what an honor it is for him to travel with them and help them find places they had been.
If we as Americans can learn anything here it will include the ability to hold opposite ideas, not just in our mind but in our state of being. We who travel together for the next two weeks are not the younger generation. We cannot jettison the baggage we carry. We can, however, learn to hold it dynamically. The war our country fought here is the great tragedy of our formative years, but in this extraordinary and vibrant place we can learn to turn that experience inside out. Rather than dwelling in eternal grief, can learn how to let what we know empower us.