Friday, November 11, 2011

Parallel

There was a time when the only news that came into any given home was via the 6 o'clock evening news, way back when news anchors were always men. Y'know... eons ago when Walter Cronkite ruled the airwaves. That was it - no CNN, no MSNBC, no internet and youtube and constant stream of information fed our lives. If something big happened, we found out about it at 6 pm. And that was okay. In fact, that was fine. I kind of miss those days.

For my father, the 6 o'clock evening news was gospel. It was as much a part of our daily lives as was supper.

Although I was still mostly a toddler, I clearly remember hearing about a strange, distant land called Vietnam. I remember when the combat troops were deployed, thus beginning the war that was not a war.

Right around that time my dad, who had been sober for nearly four years, began drinking again. Thus began the war that was not a war in my own home.

I'm not saying my experience was anything like that of those Vietnam vets. I'm only pointing out that there was a strange parallel in my universe. Both filled my formative years with turmoil and uncertainty.

The Vietnam war ended a few months before my fourteenth birthday. The Black war ended when my father passed away just after I turned twenty. The two are wrapped together in my mind.

Even as a kid, I fretted for the welfare of our troops. The nightly images of battle, of injured or dead men, left me with an aching heart. When "our boys" began coming home, I watched as shells of men returned, men who were scared, angry, confused, and lost. Broken men. Men who had become outsiders in their own home. I had my own experience-based understanding of those feelings. In my own limited way, I could relate.

My childhood was filled with such despair. I remember thinking... there is so much hurt everywhere. So much destruction in so many ways. Who will listen? Who will make any of it better?

As intelligent and, dare I say, even a bit fey as I was back then I was still unaware of the impact I could have on the world, or on anyone. I wasn't quite clued in that I could play a part in making life better for anybody, let alone for myself. It's forgivable now. I can recognize that I was just a kid. I was not an outspoken kid either. I feared retribution of any kind from any angle.

But that was then. This is now.

I hate fighting. I hate conflict of any kind. Still, I wouldn't change those years of my life for anything. They made me. No, they honed me. I think the reason I'm as tuned in as I am is because of those years - because at a very early age, I began absorbing the feelings of others, identifying the feelings and identifying with them.

I remember an afternoon, I was about counter top height, so I was probably about seven years old. I recall asking my mother, "Why do people have to fight? Why can't they just talk?" It was a bold question for me. Questioning The Way Things Are was not encouraged in my family. Even so, my mother sighed and paused in whatever task she was doing. She turned and looked me in the eyes for a moment. Then with a slight smile said, "My dear Barbara... you are wise beyond your years."

I don't have an easy resolution or conclusion for this post. The fact that I'm writing about this stuff is because I'm still haunted by... all of it.

But. I think this is my way of saying thank you to our veterans - especially to our Vietnam veterans. Years ago you made a huge difference in the life of a little girl growing up in Kentwood, Michigan. Years ago she worried about you and cried for you and hoped with all her heart that you'd be okay.

She still does.

3 comments:

  1. That was hauntingly beautiful. Painfully well written. I recognize myself in many of your angst filled moments from the past, for one reason or another and I'm strangely comforted to know that I wasn't the only one with whacked out parents, or difficult experiences...

    Bless you in your vulnerability.

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  2. Wow. Thanks so much for sharing, Barb.

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  3. Movingly beautiful piece. Thank you Barb!

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