If I have a lodestone – a spiritual magnetic north – it is here, in this little country church a mile or so away from my grandparents’ home where I would come to spend most summers growing up. I love this place, this beautiful land in the Appalachian foothills, rolling pasture lands, wandering Black Angus cattle, green in the way Ireland is green. My memories are deep and woven into me in the complicated ways of love.
I went away, but always came back, even after the people I was related to, one by one took their places beneath the headstones. I read off the carved names and hear my grandmother’s voice saying them. They lived “down the road a piece,” or “over town.” It was a place where around a bend in the road meant a different world, but it was all linked by a party line that was the quickest means of knowing who might need a cake to be brought, or the rest of Sunday’s ham. I learned community here, the simple caring of showing up and then showing up again. Read more
I found this, “How To Listen To Me, a Veteran,” on the website of the Office of Veterans and Military Personnel at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis and found it quite useful, not just for listening to veterans but for listening to anyone who has a difficult story to tell. Some of his points challenge the assumptions of a culture all-too-given to lionizing anything military while at the same time not taking the time to listen to what they say.
His point of view merits discussion. This, for instance: “If you make the offer to listen to me though, you had better mean it. You had better mean that you will sit with me and listen till I am done telling, not until you are bored or uncomfortable. Make the offer to listen to me, and then be prepared in case I decide you are the right person to tell my story to.” Those sentences alone are worth separate discussion and he has many of them. Respond in the comments, if you will. Read more
Monastery garden in Pleiku, Viet Nam
Before I made my first visit to Vietnam three years ago, I put a message on a Linkedin group for UNC alums, asking for memories of the 60s in Chapel Hill. I had in mind a community-building reminiscence about a challenging and exciting time, shared with the benefit of the wisdom that comes from decades of reflection.
That didn’t work out so well.
lizard tracks in the sand
I couldn’t see the lizard and then I could. I will never forget the moment. It thrills and haunts me. It wasn’t that I found it by scanning or that I was looking in the wrong place and got redirected. I was looking right at the lizard and I couldn’t see it and then I could. “The scales fell from my eyes,” is the Biblical language and I don’t mind using that language here because the moment did feel mystical. It felt like a gift had been given to me, one that I had longed for without knowing it.
The flight comes in as the sun is going down, catching peaks in gold and highlighting the ring of mineral deposits that finish the shoreline like a ruffled bedskirt. We land and come into a concourse with its early-warning array of slot machines. Then down an escalator facing an enormous picture of Bobby Flay and into the baggage claim area where there are more carousels than I have ever seen in any airport and everything is pounding music and flashing advertisements for shows and spouting cascades of lights and rings and clatters and I think, Come on, Las Vegas. You are being a parody of yourself! Read more
When I wrote To Set Against the Dark, I focused on the little Quan Am I brought back from Hoi An. But she has company on that shelf. Over to the left, too dark to see in this photo, is a bird’s nest I found one year in a Christmas tree. Read more
I hadn’t talked to Coyote in a while, not about the blog anyway. He still hung around, looking over my shoulder when I was writing in that annoying way he has and harrumphing occasionally. In a more successful ploy to get my attention, he made me a drink – passionfruit juice mixed with an aromatic and evocative rum he knew I would recognize.
“So what do you think I should do?” I asked. The heat of the day stirred memories. Upstate New York wasn’t Saigon but it was doing its best. Read more
The little Quan Am, carved by an artist in Hoi An of pink Vietnamese marble, sits on a shelf in my living room. On either side are beeswax candles in ceramic cups that in traditional Vietnamese dance are held in pairs in one hand and tapped together like castanets. Before her are shells picked up along the shore of the South China Sea, a dish of rice because she is, after all, from Vietnam, and three chocolates because the papers are red and gold.
In the time she has sat there, facing the comings and goings of the house, I have begun to imagine I hear entire conversations taking place within the niche. Read more
Preparing for the 45th anniversary of the massacre at My Lai.
“I want to know,” I said, “how does she do it?”
The question was presumptuous, of course, but it was the only one I wanted answered. It was the only thought I could entertain, the only speech I could tolerate.
There was a pause, I remember that. Perhaps she was gathering her thoughts. Perhaps she would never have answered because what do you say to blundering Americans anyway? Someone from our group, perhaps unable to endure the silence, spoke for her and the moment was gone. Read more
It’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. Read more