Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I am reading an extraordinary book called Shrapnel in the Heart, written by Laura Palmer,  a reporter that covered the Vietnam war and the fall of Saigon.  She traveled across the United States, tracing the authors of heart rending letters to the dead and listening to their stories.  Her book tells of their offerings, countless letters, teddy bears, Bibles, tins of sardines, beer, POW/MIA bracelets, a three of spades, a pack of Luckies, dog tags, boots, sweat bands, medals, a can of maple syrup,  seventy one cents in change, a bicycle tire tube, a harmonica, a zip lock bag filled with dirt, a white envelope with "please write" scrawled across the front. All left at the Vietnam wall by the wives, children, siblings, parents and friends of the 58,132 Americans whose names are etched in the black granite and in our memories.  "What she found were survivors, long isolated with their grief, who had finally been able to express, at the memorial their sense of pain and loss.  This book presents voices of Americans most deeply touched by the war, those whose kin, loved ones or buddies died in Southeast Asia.  It is a book about love that bombs could not shatter and bullets could not kill."

I quote from the Introduction, "Courage is the common thread that runs throught these stories. Shrapnel in the Heart brought me, quite literally, to the doorsteps of the quietly courageous.  I have always been struck by the savagery and randomness of the blows that lacerate some lives.  I am in awe of the courage it takes to go on. Rarely do we notice the triumphs that are forged by putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.  Did we ever really notice that each bullet that took a life in Vietnam stopped several other lives here dead in their tracks?  The flag on the coffin covered only the obvious tragedy.  It wasn't just the bodies that were buried, it was the dreams."

Today is no different.  Lives are lost, lives are shattered, and hearts are struck with shrapnel.  We don't pick up the pieces and go on like before.  The pain remains in us, a part of us.  Ms. Palmer says,  "Sometimes it is shard of a memory; sometimes it is a ferocious trauma." 

Yesterday one of my courageous soldiers with acute PTSD/TBI wrote to tell me that he was enrolled in college to become a Physical Therapist.  He was excited.  I was proud as I realized he was becoming a part of his healing.  But he will never be the same again.  His life will be played out in front of a backdrop of Iraq and his buddy that died in front of him. 

So with constant reminders of death, does life become more precious and precarious?  I suppose so.  It has for me.  What lessons do we learn?  I learn to cherish my friends.  I learn to let go of people I love that don't love me back.  I learn to unrepently eat chocolate.  I learn to be amazed as I look at the sky, as I see a hawk landing on a fence in a vibrant green field of grazing sheep, and at the presence of the moon, the smell of cinnamon muffins in the oven,  a baby's face, and a text message from someone I miss dearly. I have learned to love each breath I take.  I have learned to love life. And I have learned that it is in the rough edges of life where you become more compassionate, more caring, more loving, more who you were meant to be.  I have learned that there are those moments when words are meaningless, moments that erase everything bad and open up a door into a place that is hopeful.

So on Saturday I go to a funeral service for a friend who died way too early.  For him I go on.  For our soldiers I go on and become their voices.   For if I don't there is no honoring their memories.  There is no sense in it all. I for one will not let them be forgotten.

Some events in our lives defy words.  But perhaps the best we can do, the best revenge is to go on.

"Dearest Eddie Lynn -
I'd give anything to have you shell just one more pecan for me on Grandmas's proch.
All My Love,
Your Cousin,

Message left at the Vietnam Wall and quoted in "Schrapnel in the Heart"

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