I had an interesting encounter yesterday.
My daughter treated me to a manicure. I think I’ve had two in my whole life. It’s always a treat when I get to spend time with Kate.
The woman who did my nails was courteous and sweet. She had a very thick accent so I knew she was from Southeast Asia.
We exchanged pleasantries while she started on my nails. We talked about our children, how many etc… etc.
Then, I just came out and asked her where she was from.
“Vietnam.” She answered.
As you all know my brother Stan was killed in Vietnam. I’m always a little uncomfortable talking to someone from there, Vietnam. My mind immediately goes to my brother and how he lost his life over there. It’s my problem, and I own it.
When I told her about my brother, she looked at me with wet eyes, and nodded. She told me how much she appreciated the Americans. Squeezing my hand she expressed how sorry she was for my loss. By then, I had tears in my eyes!
She continued on with her story of how long she’d live here in the U.S., and the circumstances of her family’s immigration after the war.
Her father had been a doctor and her mother a professional business woman in Saigon. When South Vietnam fell to the communists, her mother and father were taken away to work in the forests. She was one of nine children and only four years-old at the time.
When her parents were taken away she, and four of her siblings, stayed back in Saigon to fend for themselves. One of her older brothers had his tongue cut by the communists because he was viewed as a sympathizer to the Americans. Many professionals were killed or treated horribly during the time.
Having nothing of their former life to comfort them, she talked about how hungry she and her siblings were most of the time, and how they longed for their mother.
She was eighteen the next time she saw her parents.
We went on to talk about our families and what had become of them after the war. This remarkable woman had gone through so much and yet here she was consoling me!
When I was teaching I had many Vietnamese students in my classes. They were wonderful students, and very respectful. I wanted to talk to them about the war, but my heart wasn’t ready. At first It hurt me to look at them, thinking only of my loss.
In any war both sides suffer pain and loss, but sometimes it takes coming face-to-face with the other side to completely heal. It takes holding their hand and sharing the pain. This was one of those moments in my life that shook me up, and let me see the bigger picture.
That hole in my heart got another patch yesterday.