Last Thursday, September 21st, I posted an item commemorating the 50th anniversary of my arrival in Vietnam on Views from Eagle Peak. It’s no coincidence that the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick series about the Vietnam War began and continues on PBS overlapping that anniversary. If you haven’t yet seen it, go to the PBS site to see more information about the war and the series. It contains interviews with more than 100 individuals involved with the war–on all sides. I wasn’t among them, but this September also marks the tenth anniversary of my publishing a memoir which prominently features my experiences in Vietnam. The series and my book are complementary.
In the Buddhism I practice, there is no such thing as coincidence. There is causality–cause and effect. A long-time leader I know within our lay organization prefers the term anagogical (no doubt stemming from his former Catholic background) to describe what fellow Buddhists often describe as mystical phenomena. His term is more precise, reflecting the unseen connections between events. Such is the case not just with the timing of the PBS series but with events in my life from childhood through Vietnam. My experiences in Vietnam destroyed innocence and shattered illusions but ultimately led to my practice of Buddhism ten years later–in 1977. Waiting for Westmoreland reveals how Vietnam led me to Buddhism. It also explains how my childhood led to behavior in Vietnam that formed causes that produced life-threatening effects.
Watch for a feature on these two anniversaries in the October edition of Eagle Peak Quarterly. In the meantime, as promised in that Thursday post on Views from Eagle Peak, here’s another excerpt from WFW.
I spent my first 11 years living in a small stucco house in Minneapolis, the second one in from Humboldt Avenue, where the first block of Victory Memorial Drive began. The mile-long boulevard commemorated America’s successful end to the First World War. How odd it seems to me now, growing up on a street by that name. My war, Vietnam, had a somewhat different conclusion. It would leave me not a sense of victory but one of loss, both for my country and for myself. My parents bought the house new, in 1929, 18 years before I was born.
No longer new by my time, the blackened walls of the former coal bin were now just a reminder of an old furnace that once warmed the dwelling. The detached garage at the end of our small back yard had a current-leaking rotary light switch that would give a mild shock on rainy days. A dirt alley next to the garage separated us from an out lot next to the Soo Line tracks. Further back was a switchyard, with engines shuttling boxcars back and forth most days of the week. Through trains rumbled by during the night, with steel wheels clicking and clacking on the rails and whistles sounding in advance of the grade crossing at Humboldt Avenue. I slept through the sound, growing accustomed to it much as I later would the sounds of distant artillery and helicopter gunship fire during Vietnam nights, waking only when the battle grew too near.