"Find the cost
buried in the ground..."
I need to forewarn regular readers -- I don't know where this is going. I only know that I have to write it while my heart is still broken wide open, and the words can find their way out on the crest of a tear. That said...
I love to disappear most days, and have breakfast at a small cafe. I like to sit at a small table and read, journal, listen, and sometimes I am gifted with a conversation with a stranger -- or two. Today was one of those days. A lovely couple sat down at the table next to mine, and wished me a good morning. I noticed immediately that he was wearing a cap with a Vietnam Veteran's insignia on it.
While they waited for their breakfast, they asked if I was a local -- I never get tired of answering that question with a resounding "yes!" And then I learned that we'd all graduated from high school about the same time, and that they were both veterans.
We talked about "those times." The 60s and 70s, Vietnam, Nixon, the draft, sit-ins, Woodstock and such. I smiled at the serendipity of it all. Only the night before, I'd been on a magical musical journey that had started with new group, Darlingside's cover of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock,"and meandered through the protest songs of Neil Young and Buffalo Springfield, before turning onto the shadowed path of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's "The Cost of Freedom."
What had started out as a sunny trip down memory lane, quickly turned dark. It has stirred up very fallow ground. I lay awake, praying through the night for my own freedom from an overwhelming sense of sadness about those days. They'd left their mark on my heart.
I knew that gratitude for good was my only hope of salvaging those songs and the youthful memories they resurrected in me. I searched my "soul" for moments of nobility, grace, dignity, and honor from that time, that I could be grateful for. And I found many. When I finally rested -- just before dawn -- I was resting upon the good I'd seen and experienced, rather than from the tragedies I'd been haunted by only hours earlier.
So, I was prepared when, what had started out as a simple conversation between strangers, turned into a deeply meaningful discussion about healing, and veterans, and war. My new friends shared with me that they'd recently driven across country and had stayed at a hotel near Kent State University. She said, with tears in her eyes, that she'd had those ominous, repetitive words "four dead in Ohio," from Neil Young's "Ohio" in her head, from the minute she saw the Kent State sign.
My heart seemed to melt into hers at the thought of these two precious veterans -- who had given their service to our country, during one of the most difficult times in the history of our nation -- facing that kind of inner conflict. Here we were, the Vietnam war protestor and the veterans -- and I prayed that we might find healing in one another's company 45 years later. And, I think we did.
We talked about the power of Love to bring people together. We talked about how his re-entry into American culture following his discharge was devastating, until he took time to return to nature. We talked about the importance of working with animals, plants, and the land, in returning a sense of humanity to those who had witnessed -- or been made to participate in -- inhumane acts of war.
And we talked about family. About the inner call to redemption. About a time that was fraught with confusion, with the hunger for connection, and with humanity's insatiable need for forgiveness, understanding, and redemption.
Our checks came, we paid, rose, and reached for one another to shake hands -- and to embrace. I couldn't help but feel somehow that we'd been given that hour in one another's company, as a gift of grace. The war protestor and the veteran. I was saddened by what it must have been like for her to lie on a hotel bed and hear, over and over again, the words to a song I'd sung loudly during the summer of 1970:
"four dead in Ohio,
four dead in Ohio...."
My heart weeps for them. And for all of us. We were just children facing questions we were ill-prepared for. We were raised by "the greatest generation," on a wonderful diet of patriotism, dignity, and service. But we were not equipped for watching our brothers, boyfriends, and classmates drafted right out of high school. We were not ready for the pain of attending memorial services for our peers. We couldn't process knowing 18 year old widows.
How does one go from watching a after school cartoons to war footage on the evening news? From singing songs about wearing flowers in our hair, to laying flowers on the graves of boys we'd had crushes on? How did they go from throwing footballs to throwing grenades? We were confused. We were frightened. We were angry. We took it out on one another. I am sorry -- deeply sorry.
I only pray that we can be the generation that is not afraid to redeem ourselves by learning from the lessons of the past. That we can be known for bringing unity, compassion, and dignity to our own returning sons and daughters -- while still honoring the sensibilities of those who oppose global oppression, but without military engagement.
I can't help but think of Mary Baker Eddy's beautiful promise in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:
"One infinite God, good,
unifies men and nations;
constitutes the brotherhood of man;
ends wars; fulfils the Scripture,
“Love thy neighbor as thyself;”
annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry,
— whatever is wrong in social, civil,
criminal, political, and religious codes;
equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man,
and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer,
be punished or destroyed."
We must have compassion for one another. Love doesn't have sides. Love doesn't pull us apart, but draws us together where we can work together, deepen our humanity, and find solutions.
offered with Love,