Thursday, April 29, 2010

Papa and that Napalm Girl

Writing about our father yesterday, I found memories flooding back. I woke up this morning resolved to write more about my time with the man I now refer to as "Dad"--he was Papa growing up.

As I joined my husband in front of the television this evening I learned he was watching a show (probably Frontline) on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Normally when the subject matter is this grim I kiss Bill on the cheek, say goodnight and retreat with a good novel. Tonight I took a deep breath and stayed put. As I forced myself to watch photographs and interviews from this horrible time when U.S. soldiers murdered 100s of women and children and elderly civilians as they screamed in terror, memories of my childhood floated up.

My father, like my husband, never shied away from the truth of the brutality of humanity. He was an active organizer against the Vietnam war. While day might be filled with the light of picket lines (or in those days, protest marches--which I also loved). Night was Walter Cronkite on the television news showing us pictures and telling stories of the relentless wounded and dead. The soundtrack was Judy Collins singing "No more Genocide in my name" on our turntable. And the imaged seared into my mind of the war was this photo of the naked Vietnamese girl screaming and running in terror down the road after being napalmed in Trang Bang.

Many nights in this era, I would cry myself to sleep at night, covering my head with a pillow praying and pleading silently with my father to stop playing Joan Baez or Judy Collins (to this day I have an aversion to sopranos with a mission although I am one myself). I envied my father's ability to hold compassion and interest and anger and work for justice all at the same time when I just wanted to run screaming out of the room like that girl.

To me, to this day it is not motivating to know the horrible truths of the world. I don't want to believe or hold these kinds of images in my mind. I avoid gruesome movies whether fictional or documentary in nature. Yet as an aspiring minister, I am confronted and must hold people's real pain and tragedy. I am getting better at absorbing without embodying and becoming their pain.

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