THE SOLDIER AND THE HIPPIE
Yep….As I write this, my hair color loosely resembles the pink cotton candy at the state fair. By the time this is printed, it will probably be more a lilac hue. One of my tattoos is a Tibetan Buddhist mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM. It translates to ,’OM, the jewel in the lotus,’ meaning to find compassion in the darkest, most unexpected places. I say this mantra often when I am at odds with someone, or feel tension of some sort. I also have symbols of the four elements tatted around my wrists, a reminder to keep all of my bodies in balance. According to Eastern mystics and meta-physicians, we have four bodies, of course. One of my heroes is Gloria Steinem. I honestly believe if women ran things, more progress would be made. Add Eastern thought to that equation, and I don’t believe we would find a need for war. The one time I held a cold and heavy gun, I got a bit nauseous. Seriously. I couldn’t do it. My body had a violent reaction to a violent and deadly weapon. In short, these are just some of the reasons I would not make a good soldier. These are also some of the topics that cause my former Marine and Nam vet dad, to argue with me. Or, to put it plainly, he argues and I say my mantras.
The Tibetan monk, Thich Nhat Hanh was interviewed by Oprah recently. He commented that if we each took the time to actively listen to one another, and just say, ‘I hear you. I hear your suffering. I empathize. I understand,” there would be no war. Not try to solve their issue, or argue their beliefs, just listen. I heartily agree. He also spoke of the famous Monk protests during the Vietnam war that upset so many, including my father. Hanh said the monks setting themselves aflame was not like the suicide bombers of today because they were only hurting themselves. To paraphrase, he explained it was their way to call attention to the suffering at the time.
It was because of this act so many years ago, that my father got upset when I started exploring Buddhism. It did not matter that the monks never physically hurt him or his men, he took it as an act against him. It did not matter that some of his men converted to Buddhism while stationed there. Still to this day, he has not forgiven those monks. Nor the protesters he encountered when he returned home in August of 1966. I suppose California was the last place the vets should have landed, with it being a hotbed of hippie counterculture.
“But they were receiving different information about the war than what you were told, Dad. Both of your groups were receiving misinformation. And some of them were just against the war, not you as a person,” I said after studying the era in high school. But, it didn’t matter. He hated them enough to get thrown in jail for punching one in the face, about six hours after landing. That’s my dad!
At the time, and even now, he cannot comprehend their side. His ability to forgive is masked by hurt and pain from the horrors he had witnessed, the difficult decisions he had made on a daily basis during his tour. He will not open his heart for them, or anyone else that attacks his fragile ego. I suppose I can understand others’ attitudes when I speak out against war; being his daughter. I can see a soldier being furious with me that I am not supporting them in something they fully see as their duty. But, can we not support the person as a human, and not a war? This is the thin line I walk between two worlds: my father’s world and the way I was raised, versus my world and my spiritual truth.
Dad’s world is VERY black and white. It has to be the way he wants it, from only his view. And then, there is the rest of the world. Separate. With him being the supreme ruler of our household, you cannot question him in any sense of the word. It was very difficult for me to grow up in this environment. He raised us like soldiers, but also prim and proper ladies. But never autonomous or free thinking. Have I shown you enough of my character for you to grasp how impossible this was/is for me to live with?? I need reasoning for things. I need to see all sides of the argument, the history, the patterns.
For instance, I researched some very gruesome, despicable men in my Criminal Justice courses for college, only to find they were also victims of abuse and neglect. When there are cases of extreme child abuse on Nancy Grace, I wonder, “Why did they do it?” As you can guess, Dad does not think this way. In fact, he doesn’t think about it at all. ‘She’s guilty! Fry her!” And while this is upsetting to me, I understand this is how he was taught to think. As you can surmise, I did not make it through the criminal justice program. Progressive liberal ways of thinking are much more suited in Early Childhood Development courses, and that is just where I went for my degree!
I often take part in letter writing and email campaigns for various causes dear to my heart. I would like to be more active outside the home, if my health issues improved. I feel the need, and have the right for my voice to be heard. I feel that we are all connected by a cosmic force, and that alone stirs my passion to speak. My dad, on the other hand, does not want to draw attention, anger anyone, or show any signs of protest to ‘The Man.’ It is a wonder I survived adolescence. When I see what I view as an injustice, or see someone or something who cannot speak for themselves, I use my voice. I don’t wait for someone else to step in. I’ve been there many times throughout my life, and would have been relieved if someone spoke for me. It isn’t that I set out to make waves, or piss off my Dad, it just happens that way.
I imagine at the beginning of this piece, you thought was referring to two opposing forces of the Vietnam War. Did you guess by the end that I was using both words to describe me?
Epilogue– After much debate, I shared this with my father. I had to quit reading for a bit after the Gloria Steinem comment, then again after the monks, so he could calm down. (He still is pissed at them.) The whole time, his chapped hands wrung anxiously. A few times he chuckled. He said he liked it, and thought it was good. Then, he talked for about and hour and a half about the war, which is rare for him. Among things, he admitted being stuck in the soldier mentality and in that era.
“The world moved on. I didn’t, ” he said. “I don’t know another way to be.” He still prefers WHITE men in charge; everyone to be Christian; men and women to marry only each other, and settle down to have nice, polite, and obedient children. He fears change so much, that he would rather be stressed and miserable than question why. I, on the other hand, dance with the hungry ghosts in my closet in order to learn about myself. I haplessly run towards the dark, unknown path where I faintly see only a few others ahead to challenge tradition and grow as my true self. But, I guess he already walked a more dangerous, unknown path with a different set of phantoms.
I don’t claim to be more elvolved, or have a clear picture why HE is the way he is, but i am more aware. And this is a start.
Children Of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance