Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Fisherman & the Lucky Cat

Growing up back home, we always had cats along with other animals that we considered important members of the family. I like cats. Not only are cats valued for their hunting skills, in my family, especially on my mother's side, cats hold a sacred place of honor. We respect them & revere them for their gift to the family. It's a long tale, a part of family lore. Some stories, especially family myths & legends are best told around a fire in the dark mysteries & magic of the night. Long story short:

In the history of family lore, an ancestor saved a cat & took very good care of it for many years til the cat died of old age. The cat repaid the ancestor's kindness by becoming a herald to the family. When someone in the family was about pass on, a cat would cry out, a phantom cat no one would find. And in a dream that night, the cat would reveal who would pass on soon, giving the family members time to make peace & say goodbye before the end comes. And it is a precious gift that we have cherished for generations, one that those of us who believe have witnessed time & time again, always grateful for the rare opportunity to make peace, settle matters, & bid farewell to loved ones before they passed on.

The Fisherman & the Lucky Cat

Once upon a time, when the length of the day was measured by sunlight & the night claimed the earth as soon as the sun set, when news & tidings spread by word of mouth, when travel upon the waters was ruled by the tides & winds, a fisherman took his boat out to the deep blue ocean as he did every calm morning to catch fish. Imagine his surprise when fish wasn't the first thing he caught that morning, but instead, he found a kitten clinging to floating debris.

The kitten had been washed off a ship that sank during a violent storm the night before. The Fisherman rescued the floundering kitty from the flotsam he was clinging to, wrapped a towel around him, & fed that orange tiger striped kitten a fresh fish he had just caught. A few minutes later, the Fisherman's lines & nets were suddenly full of fish, the largest catch the fisherman had ever caught up until then.

The Fisherman returned home with the cat & surprised the villagers with his large catch & new kitten. He sold all of his bounty of fish that morning as the villagers marveled at the rescued kitty. It was the first time that a cat had arrived in the remote village, & the people were curious & fascinated by the orange tiger striped kitten. A few of the locals had seen cats in other distant villages & some cats were definitely present at the capital. But for the majority of villagers, this was the first time they had seen a cat up close. And it was amazing!

The Fisherman took care of that cat for many years after. That cat was a constant companion, staying with the fisherman, even when the Fisherman went out fishing. And when they got back from fishing, the cat would wander off to play with the village children for a while, returning home for meals & nap times.

Everyone in the village recognized the Fisherman & his cat. Everyone fed that cat. Most of the other fishers often asked the Fisherman & his cat to join their crew for the day, because they believed the Fisherman & his cat were lucky. The cat had survived a large ship that sank during a sudden, violent storm. Debris from the ship washed upon the village shore later in the day. No other survivors were found, except for the cat.

Everytime the Fisherman & his cat went fishing, by themselves or with a crew, they always managed to catch a lot of fish, even when the larger fishing vessels caught nothing. Even more impressive, during a fishing expedition, a storm blew up & managed to sink the other vessels in the fleet, except the boat the Fisherman & his cat were on. They survived the storm & managed to rescue the other crews. After it happened a second time with a different expedition, with the Fisherman & his cat surviving on the only safe boat once more, the village believed the cat was lucky. And that luck held true, & eventually, it became legend, the tale of the Fisherman & his lucky cat.

In time, the Fisherman married & had children, & that family loved their cat. Many years later, after a long & wonderful life, the cat eventually grew old & died. It was a sad time for the Fisherman & his family. Even the village mourned the loss of the lucky cat. It was the village mascot, & it was the only cat in the village at that time. It would be a few years later that other cats would come to the village & be made welcomed to their new home. Those later cats were brought into the village by the Fisherman after he returned from a long journey from far off places. Of all the treasures he returned with from his long journey, the most precious & priceless gifts were these new cats. But until then, the Fisherman & his family grieved the loss of their orange, tiger striped cat.

A month later, alone at home that afternoon, the Fisherman heard a cat crying, meowing as his old cat used to. He looked everywhere in & around the house, but he couldn't find a cat anywhere. Eventually, the cat's cries stopped, & the Fisherman wondered if perhaps he was hearing things. That night, the Fisherman had a dream. And in this dream, he saw his father getting on a passenger ship, leaving for a long journey. The Fisherman's father was a missionary, & even after he got married & had children, the Missionary still took long journeys to minister to people in far off places, often gone for a very long time, for months, & sometimes, years.

The Missionary & his son, the Fisherman, did not have a close relationship. And when the Missionary finally retired, he returned to find all his children had grown up, & they all felt ambivalent about him. On the one hand, they respected their father for his work & the sacrifices he made to spread the faith. But on the other hand, their father left them, for years, & they grew up without ever really knowing him, feeling abandoned, as if they weren't important enough for their father to stay at home & help raise them. It would seem the man loved his work more than he loved his family.

The Fisherman did not feel any close ties to his father, & he moved to a remote village far from the place where he was raised & his parents lived. And for many years, he did not see his father & only learned news of him from the letters his mother would write. Over the years, he would meet his mother at other villages when she took a trip to visit her children & grandchildren, who were living in different areas spread wide across the region. She travelled alone; the Missionary opting to stay at home, engaged in one task or another. Even after he got married & had children of his own, the Fisherman did not see his father. But he made the long trips with his family to his other siblings villages when his mother would visit her children over the years.

Still, after so many years apart, the Fisherman recognized from his dream that his father was going away like he used to on his missions. He recognized the passenger ship his father often took when he left for his missions. Except this time, he was taking no luggage at all. Though the Fisherman tried calling out & desperately tried to wave, his father could not see nor hear him. The Missionary boarded the ship, & the ship finally raised anchor & started to pull away. Only then did his father turn to see him, only then did his father nod & wave good bye as the ship started to vanish into the horizon.

Suddenly, the Fisherman's deceased cat appeared on the dock. And it surprised the Fisherman, who had missed his cat so. But he was even more astonished when the cat actually spoke & told him that because the Fisherman was kind to him & took very good care of him, the cat would offer him & his family a gift of thanks. And that gift would be the cat's promise to be a herald of the family. The cat would warn them when one of the family was about to pass on to the next world.

The cat would announce this nearing death by crying out a phantom warning, & it would reveal in dreams who was to pass on soon. The cat would make this revelation early enough to give the family time to settle accounts & make peace before the end comes.

And so it was the cat revealed to the Fisherman that his missionary father would pass on soon. When the Fisherman woke up that morning, he told his wife about his dream, & to her credit, she believed him. By that afternoon, the Fisherman & his family began the long journey to his parents home. It was the first time he would see his home village after many decades when he left to make his own way in the world. It would be a long & arduous journey, but it was a journey he needed to make. Along the way, he picked up his other siblings & told them of his dream.

When the large family caravan of siblings, their spouses, & children finally reached their parents house a few days later, they discovered a doctor at their home. The doctor revealed the sad news that the Missionary had become sick suddenly overnight, & he was not expected to live out the week.

And so it was that the Missionary, surprised at seeing his children & their families for the very first time, wept tears of joy & sorrow; joy for finally seeing all his loved ones together, & sorrow at the time lost & how little was left. In those final days, the Missionary & his children made peace, & he spent his last days surrounded by forgiveness & love, watched over by his children & grandchildren til the day he breathed his last.

The cat's herald had come true. And in the years after, the cat heralded the passing of the Fisherman's mother & his older siblings. Eventually, the cat heralded that the Fisherman's passing would come soon, & by then his wife & his children had learned to listen for this treasured gift from their beloved cat. Those who kept the faith & listened to the cat's herald were rewarded with the rare ability to say goodbye to loved ones, settle affairs, & make peace before the end would come.

And so it was for the Fisherman's children, his grandchildren, & every descendant since. We've listened to the cat's herald & we've taken the time to settle matters & make peace before the end comes. It is a truly rare & precious gift, the opportunity to make peace & say goodbye before death comes and it all ends. A family is made of love, so love your family & cherish your friends, for friends are the family you get to choose. Life is for the living, so live fully & embrace with all your heart your friends & loved ones.

The Descendants

Not everyone believes the legend, but most in my family do. A few who ignored the signs regretted it, like a cousin who was on an alcohol binge, partying for days, getting wasted, as she often did, disappearing from home for days, sometimes a week or two. She heard the cat cry three different times, but she ignored it & partied on. A week later, when she finally ran out of money (& drinking buddies), she made her way home, only to find numerous vehicles parked around her house & all up & down the street. Confused, she spotted one of her cousins scurrying about the backyard over a large fire pit, grilling lots of food for what looked like a feast.

She asked the cousin what was going on. Was there a party? The cousin & other cooks were shocked. But the party girl's shock was even bigger, when she learned that food was for a funeral: They were burying party girl's mother at that very instant. Her mother had a heart attack a week earlier, but she finally passed away after a long week of holding on.

I remember that funeral. I was a very young child then. But I remember sitting up front with my mother, who was mourning her sister's passing. Suddenly, I was startled by loud, inhuman, piercing animal like wails--these primal screams of agonizing, soul killing pain. I was shocked to see my cousin burst through the crowd then throw herself right on top of the coffin; I saw the coffin trembling on the straps that were holding it above the open grave. In a few seconds, those coffin straps buckled, & I watched in horror & shock as the coffin & my wailing cousin tumbled down into the grave while glorious chaos erupted around us, & other people started screaming. Bouquets & large floral arrangements that were caught in my cousin's raging wake were dragged & knocked down into the grave.

A few women fainted; a few mourners were knocked off their seats as the crowd pushed & pulled to get close to & away from the frantic action. The priest tripped & fell over backwards when he was startled by the sight of my screeching, crazed cousin plunging down the grave on top of the coffin. A few men jumped into the grave to try to stop my mad cousin who was trying to pry the coffin lid open. Others tried to pull out the flowers & debris that had been knocked down into the grave. Meanwhile, the piano player kept playing his funeral songs, & a few members of the choir kept singing, ignoring the chaos & disaster that was happening in front of them.

And through it all, I remember my mother taking it all in calmly, her raised eyebrow was the only acknowledgement that this was some crazy, messed up situation that was spiraling out of control. She had come to mourn the loss of her sister, not be witness to a stunt show & circus. I recognized that raised eyebrow. It meant Mom was about to take action, & if you didn't pay attention or follow her commands, you were about to get a serious spanking! It was the most dramatic funeral I've ever been to, & no other funeral has come close to matching that exquisite level of drama & entertainment.

Later on when things had calmed down, & Mom restored order & let the funeral proceed peacefully, I remember my cousin sobbing in my Mom's arms, saying she had heard the cat cry three different times, but she ignored it, & now it was too late to say goodbye to her mom. My heart ached for my cousin, because she had lost her mother, & she was suffering so.

I never gave much thought to the cat's herald, until I heard it the first time when I was 8. That evening, I heard a cat cry, but try as I might, I couldn't find that crying cat. I had a dream about my father that night, & I remember waking up the next day, & wanting to be near my Dad all day. I didn't understand what was going on, only that I wanted to be near my Dad. A week later, he passed away.

It would be many years before I understood what had happened, & when I started high school, I heard the cat herald again, & I dreamt of my favorite uncle. The next day, my mother made plans to see my uncle, for she too had heard the cat's cry. We visited my uncle, who was sick. He passed away at the end of the week.

After my uncle's passing, I knew then what I had heard. And furthermore, my other siblings reported hearing the same thing. And I would hear the cat's herald for other relatives, too. And I definitely remember one of the last few times it happened.

It was a few years ago. I remember calling home to talk to my Mom, but my nephew told me that she was asleep. She had been ill recently & she was spending a lot of time resting. I didn't want to wake her up, so I told my nephew just to let Mom know when she woke up that I called because I missed her & just wanted to hear her voice, to let her know that I loved her.

That night, I heard a cat crying. Then I dreamt that I was at the old harbor back home, looking at an old ship that was taking passengers to far off lands. I remembered this ship, because it was the same one my mother used to take (& sometimes she'd take us) to visit her other siblings & family who lived far away across the sea.

I saw my mother getting on the ship. I called out to her, but I had no voice. I tried running towards her but I felt stuck, & no matter how hard or how fast I tried, I was getting nowhere at all! I looked up as the ship was pulling away, & finally, I saw my mother looking at me, she smiled, so full of love, & she waved. Then the ship disappeared in the distance & I woke up.

That day, I took emergency leave & made the long journey home. I saw my mother. She was in the hospital then. She was very sick, but she was still able to communicate with us. Over the next few days, my siblings & their children started arriving home, to see Mom once more. And after every one of us saw her & made peace & said goodbye, she finally passed away peacefully, surrounded by those who loved her, about a week after I had arrived to say goodbye.

I will always be grateful for that time & opportunity to spend those last days with her. That was a most precious gift, one I will cherish for all of my days. Not everyone gets the opportunity to say goodbye to a loved one. Always make the effort to let your loved ones know how much you love them & how important they are to you.

I remember the next morning, sitting on the front porch with a few nieces & nephews, feet dangling off the edge. Mom's passing had kept most of us up all night, reminiscing & sometimes crying over our terrible loss. It was hard to say goodbye to Mom. And we were both sad to see her go, yet also relieved that she had passed on peacefully, free of pain & suffering, that her last hours on earth were full of love & laughter, surrounded by her loved ones. They had all come to see her one last time, to tell her how much she was loved & cherished. She passed away with a smile on her face, serenity in her features; she left this world & moved on to a better place.

My two closest brothers & one of my sisters were sitting on the chairs, watching the sun rise over the trees, bringing light & color into Mom's beautiful, lush, vibrant garden. She had a gift for growing things, whether they be flowers or her family. Birds began singing in the cool morning as light shimmered across the skies & land. Two of our cats were sleeping comfortably on the bench, warming themselves in the rising, warm sunlight.

I suddenly made the comment that I had heard the cat herald the week before, & I knew that it was time to come home to say goodbye to Mom. I told the story of my experience. My nephews & nieces seemed surprised. They looked at me with a mixture of awe & skepticism. Clearly, a few of them had not heard of this family legend, this most precious gift from the cat to our ancestor. I wasn't surprised, given that they were raised in places far away from here or their parents--our other siblings & their spouses--simply chose not to tell these family stories or perhaps no longer believed the legends nor kept the faith.

But whatever the reasons, I felt the need to inform my nieces & nephews of the family legend of the lucky cat who became our family herald, who gave us a most precious & priceless gift. It didn't matter whether they believed me or not. What was important was that they learned of this family lore & glimpsed the rich history & complexity of this family that they were a part of. These stories were their stories, & they revealed who we were; our identity & beliefs; our history & values; the wisdom & the knowledge we learned; & our hopes & dreams for the future of our family & generations to come. The stories of our family was the story of us, of our people, of our experience.

One of my brothers related that he was sitting on the tailgate of his pickup, fishing at sunset when he heard the herald & couldn't find a cat nearby crying. A dream of Mom that night convinced him that it was time to come home. My baby brother said that he heard the herald while he was fixing a car in the garage at work. In his heart, he felt that it was for Mom, who was sick those past few days. Our sister revealed that she was folding laundry that evening when she heard the herald & couldn't find a cat crying when she searched all around the house & yard. A dream of Mom that night was the sign she needed to book the trip home.

My nieces & nephews listened with rapt attention. No doubt they would ask their parents if they had ever heard the cat herald. At the very least, the kids had a fairytale to share with their siblings & friends, a story to entertain them, if not enlighten them on the importance of mercy, kindness, life, & love. The most I could hope for was that they would be granted this blessing, to hear the herald when the time comes, & they would recognize this precious gift & make the most of it, to take the time to make peace, settle matters, & say goodbye to loved ones before those loved ones pass on to the next world.

I felt the need to tell this story of the Fisherman & the lucky cat, because I needed to remember the significance of this story & why it was so important to me & my family. It is the story of us, the story of our family & loved ones, the story of how love is the most important thing in our lives. Even if no one else from the future generations will embrace nor believe this story, the most important thing is that this story is told & remembered, if not as family lore, then as a fairytale to teach people of the value & importance & preciousness of life & love.

Love comes in many forms, & it makes life worth protecting, worth living. Life is short & precious. It's important to let your loved ones know that you love them. It's important to show mercy & kindness, because they make the world a better place. You reap what you sow, so plant seeds of compassion, & you will harvest generosity, graciousness, & understanding.

A life full of love is a life fully lived. So live fully & love wholeheartedly. And be kind to animals. When you take good care of animals, the animals will take good care of you in return. They will be your friends. They will be your loved ones. Take very good care of all your friends & loved ones, because they make your life better & fill your life with joy.

Related Links:
A sailor in the fields, a treasure in the trees
The Boys of Summer
Brothers and Sisters
Tradition
A good jacket keeps you warm
Hope is a yellow dump truck
Shoes
Holiday Dismay
Are you there, Santa? It's me
It's the Most Stressful Time of the Year
Finding the way
The thing about fathers
Veterans Day Reflection
Best Laid Plans
That offal taste

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Reading List for July

It's that time again to reveal our reading list for the Infomaniac Book Challenge. My review is a few days late because I've been busy. But as the saying goes, Better late than pregnant never!

I have to be honest here. Lately, I've been reading a lot of online internet stories. First, because it's convenient, having access to so many great sites without having to carry so many heavy books around. Thank you, technology! Second, because there are some really great sites out there, whether you're looking for an informative, fascinating, intelligent discussion or, like me, for an escape to something totally wild, funny, ridiculously silly, totally creative & different...& yes, that includes comic books!

I'm big fan of SciFi, because science can be entertaining & imagination makes for some really creative, pioneering ideas & provides unique, dynamic perspectives & inspires great ventures. Remember Jules Verne? He wrote scifi adventure stories about a helicopter; submarine; & rocket to the moon way back in the 1800s, over a century before they would become real world inventions. I love it when a master story teller weaves science & imagination to create a masterpiece of art & innovation!

I also love it when a story just grabs a hold of you & immerses you in a strange world that, somehow, baffles & makes sense at the same time, & you find yourself invested in the story, because you have to find out what happens next. Such is the case of this story that I would like to share:

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman Malik.

This story I found on a great story site called Tor.com. I've written about Tor.com before, & it's a great site to discover new & classic SciFi writers, emerging talents & great masters. Some stories might not appeal to everyone, but there is such a wide variety of styles & viewpoints & unique voices that offer such a bounty of choices for the curious reader to sample & enjoy. And I've enjoyed so much!

The Pauper Prince is a novella, a really long but engaging story about a Pakistani professor, raised in the United States, caught between the traditional values of his family from the old country & the way he lives out his own life as an American. As he tries to find the balance, he ends up immersed in a mystery, drawn to a story his grandfather told of a Mughal princess & a jinn, & soon enough, he is obsessed with origins of this story & what connection, if any, does it have on his life.

This is a brilliant & wonderfully told story! If you've ever felt caught between two worlds, ever felt lost trying to find your place, ever wondered if there was more to the life you were living, then this is a great story to read, to enjoy & entertain yourself. I highly recommend it!

I've also read some physical books. Just so you know, a lot of my books I get from second hand stores at low prices or for free from book exchanges. There's a university & a community college, & a few private trade schools in the city, so naturally, there's a huge market & supply of used books--textbooks, manuals, & collections--that fill the shelves of the many secondhand bookstores & book exchanges. Even the libraries clear out their inventories every now & then. I've found so many wonderful & amazing books from visiting the secondhand bookstores & book exchanges.

I'm currently alternating between two huge collections, each deals with two of my favorite subjects: History & Literature. The first book is on the history of the US. I doubt I'll finish it before Xmas, because it's huge! And incredibly fascinating! The second book is an anthology of Old & Ancient World classics. I doubt I'll finish that til maybe next Spring. But I love the collection! A few are familiar from high school & college. But the rest, & rereading the familiar ones, make for a fascinating & interesting study on the values, thoughts, & lives of the ancient & old peoples who crafted & celebrated these stories. The stories we tell & share reveal to the world who we are as a people at this given time.

I did finish two separate books though. Both were from secondhand bookstores. Both are great finds for different reasons that I'll share.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

The first book that I finished reading is an old classic from college. It's called The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. This book is an American classic. Considered a "muckraker"--an investigative journalist who exposes the corrupt & criminal elements--Upton Sinclair went undercover & worked for several meatpacking facilities to experience first hand the horrific conditions of the meat industry & their exploitation & cruel treatment of the immigrants & working class. First, published in 1906, this book was written to expose the harsh realities & wage slavery faced by poor, working class immigrants suffering under the cruel & horrific business practices of the corrupt capitalists who built their wealth on the literal blood, sweat, tears, & lives of these poor, exploited workers.

My heart broke as I followed this tragic, horrific tale of hardworking immigrants escaping hardship & suffering from the old countries, hoping to find the American dream, only to find themselves living the American nightmare:

"They were beaten; they had lost the game, they were swept aside...They had dreamed of freedom; of a chance to look about them and learn something; to be decent and clean...And now it was all gone--it would never be!...They were lost, they were going down--and there was no deliverance for them, no hope...the vast city in which they lived might have been an ocean waste, a wilderness, a desert, a tomb..."
~The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

I remember feeling so sad at what was happening in the story. Then I felt rage at the corrupt, evil, greedy capitalist bastards who exploited these poor workers! Even after so many years later, I still feel for these poor immigrants when I reread this story.

When this book first came out, it caused a huge uproar in the American public. Not because it exposed the exploitation & suffering of the immigrants & working class, but because it revealed to the American public the awful, disgusting truth: The meat they were buying & eating was processed in unsanitary & revolting conditions, & it included copious amounts of these prolific, filthy, disease carrying vermin:

"There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs. There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms, and water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it. It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hands over these piles of meat and sweep up handfuls of dried dungs of rats. These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put out poisoned bread for them, they would die, and then the rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together. This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat would be shoveled into the carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one--there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit."
~The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

Suffice it to say that the American public was outraged to learn that the meat they were eating contained rats & tubercular germs! Meat consumption dropped & the federal government passed the The Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 (FMIA) to protect the public from tampered, mishandled, mislabeled, tainted meat & keep the meat processing facilities sanitary & clean & protect the public health (http://federal.laws.com/meat-inspection-act).

Upton Sinclair said it best, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

The Jungle reminds us that the work of this nation is ongoing. We still need to care for the working class & we still need to give a damn about the immigrants, because we are all immigrants! Unless you're a Native American, in which case, yeah, it sucks to lose your land & you struggle to find your place in a country that has stolen your lands, crushed your culture, & exploits your resources.

The work of making this country great & live up to its ideals of freedom, equality, & justice are ongoing. We are reminded over a century later that we cannot afford to be complacent. We cannot sit idly by & ignore the struggles of our neighbors & fellow countrymen. We are one people, of many tribes, & together, we rise & fall. When we look out for each other, we become stronger, we become better, we become great.

Also, Food for Thought: The federal government uses
The Food Defect Action Levels that defines the levels of "natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans". In other words, the federal gov't has levels of acceptable amounts of insect filth (segments, parts, shells), rodent filth (hair), mold, & mammalian excreta (poop!) in your food.

For example, your flour can have no more than an Average of 75 or more insect fragments per 50 grams nor an Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 50 grams. Your macaroni & noodles can have no more than an Average of 225 insect fragments or more per 225 grams in 6 or more subsamples, nor an Average of 4.5 rodent hairs or more per 225 grams in 6 or more subsamples. Peanut butter can have no more than an average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams, nor an Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams, & Gritty taste and water insoluble inorganic residue must be no more than 25 mg per 100 grams.

Think about that the next time you sit down to a meal & need a conversation starter! The Food & Drug Administration has a lovely site for these fun facts & more information on how much insect & rodent filth & excreta are acceptable in food production.

I think that The Jungle is a great example of an American classic novel, because it captures the ideals & views & hopes of that time period in American history. And those ideas & hopes still have relevance & important lessons for us to learn & remember & embrace.

Dear America, Letters Home from Vietnam. Edited by Bernard Edelman.

It's been a long time since I came across a book that moved me & made me feel so many intense emotions. Poignant, heartbreaking, tragic, beautiful, sad, & with a little bit of humor & hope. These are the letters of young men & women who served in Vietnam during the war, & their voices, their hopes, their fears, their wishes, their hearts & souls are so beautifully captured, so painfully exposed, so achingly speak out to us, to give them voices, to give them faces, to remind us that these are real people, young men & women, teenagers & so very young, who served, suffered, & died too young; or they miraculously survived (in pieces, never whole) & continue to fight to live, struggling with survivor's guilt & the meaning, if any, & the worth & cost of it all.

The letters are just so special & moving, because they capture the real emotions & thoughts of these young people & their friends & loved ones. To read something so personal is an honor & a gift. You share in their hopes & fears & dreams. You pray that they make it out alive, that they make it home safely. A few do. Most don't, & your heart breaks for the writer who penned such wonderful, rich, inspirational, intimate truths & aspirations to their loved ones, & you get to the end & learn the tragic fate of one so young, so loved, & so tragically lost in the war. These are real people with real feelings. And everytime I read a personal letter, I hoped that these young people were in a better place, if not in this world, then in the next.

The book is divided into themes & time periods that represent the progress & evolution of the war, both at home & on the frontlines in the jungles of Vietnam. These letters brilliantly & heart wrenchingly portray the lives & deaths of these young people & their loved ones. And I'd like to share a few of the many that made this book so important, so essential, & so sacred to the human experience:

Wednesday
[25 February 1970]

Dear Pete--
     After you hung up last night I felt very bad because [I] could tell from your voice that you were way down. And it made me feel bad that there was nothing I could do to help but offer advice--and advice is something you can do without.
     But please, Pete, don't do anything foolish. You are like me and have a very bad habit of doing foolish things to help ease the hurt. Do as her mother says. Ignore her, hard as it seems--one thing a girl can't stand is being ignored. Maybe she just doesn't want to tie herself down while you're over there.
     And, too, God forbid anything should happen to you. Maybe she feels she'll be less hurt this way. Give it time. Things will work out; they always do. What is the old saying, "Time heals all wounds"?
     Enough advice and lecture. Seriously, though, Pete, please take care of yourself and don't be a hero. I don't need a Medal of Honor winner. I need a son. Take care and write often.

     Love, Mom

Jan 31, 1968

Chris,
     I guess letters are going to be a long time writing over here...there is so much going on.
     Yesterday afternoon we were given an emergency mission to move about 10 miles to a new position. We got there about 6:30 and deployed the men. About midnight all hell broke loose. We were sitting right in the middle of the boondocks [when] rockets, flares, machine guns, and planes started shooting. The VC got Bien Hoa airport and Long Binh province about 24 hours after I got out! Chris, someone said a prayer for me...
     We just had a Vietnamese man come into our position with a terrible cut on his leg. "Doc" took a look at it and said that "gang green" had set in. We called in a helicopter and had him lifted to a hospital. One minute we're killing them, the next we're saving their lives.
     I miss you.

Love, Alan

Sunday
July 3rd [1966]

Dear Mom & Dad,
     I don't know how I can say this without alarming you, but I know I'll have to tell you about it because NBC News was there and I'm afraid you might have seen me on film or read about the dreadful fighting.
     When I think about the hell I've been through the last few days, I can't help but cry and wonder how I am still alive. My company suffered the worst casualties--I believe something close to 50 dead and wounded. Friends who I took training with in Ft. Polk have been killed, and some are seriously wounded. In my squad of nine men, only four of us survived.
     This was the worst battle as far as losses are concerned that this company has experienced. I'm not able to go into details now. I'm still in a slight state of shock and very weary and shaken from the last three days.
     I just wanted you to know that I'm OK. How I made it I don't know. Perhaps you didn't read about it, but in case you did I just wanted to tell you I'm OK.
     I can't help crying now because I think about the horror of those three days. I was carrying the bodies of wounded and dead onto helicopters that were in a clearing when I saw, I believe, Ron Nessen, of NBC, and they were taking pictures.
     Yesterday (I thought they'd never come for us) we were evacuated from the area by helicopter. The area is less than two miles from Cambodia, where the VC have regiments, and they ambushed us.
     I received your letter dated June 25th and will answer at a later date. Try to hold up. By the time you receive this, I hope to be somewhat recovered and at ease.

Love, Kenny

Bong Son 11/17/68

HEAT
FIRE
EXPLOSION
IS THIS DEATH?
HELP ME! HELP ME! HELP ME!
HE HOLDS TO ME FOR DEAR LIFE
AS WE MOVE TO SURVIVAL
FEAR AND CONFUSION
GUILT AND JOY
I'M ALIVE

~John Campbell

[April 1967]

Dear Ma,
     How are things back in the World? I hope all is well! Things are pretty much the same. Vietnam has my feelings on a seesaw.
     This country is so beautiful, when the sun is shining on the mountains, farmers in their rice paddies, with their water buffalo, palm trees, monkeys, birds and even strange insects. For a fleeting moment I wasn't in a war zone at all, just on vacation, but still missing you and the family.
     There are a few kids who hang around, some with no parents. I feel so sorry for them. I do things to make them laugh. And they call me "dinky dow" (crazy). But it makes me feel good. I hope that's one reason why we're here, to secure a future for them. It seems to be the only justification I can think of for the things that I have done!
   Love to all.

Your son, George


There are so many wonderful, revealing, heartfelt letters in this book. And you get to re-live & share the joys, fears, heartbreaks, sorrow, anger, despair, misery, laughter, loss, confusion, faith, abandonment, loyalty, courage, & hope that these young people & their loved ones endured & experienced during the war. So many of these writers were lost in the war, their letters a heart wrenching reminder of their loss, the last words they ever wrote before they were gone from this world, taken from the company & embrace of those who loved them dearly. For me, one letter best portrays the hope of this generation & defined who these young people were--that they were just human, like you & me, youths gone too soon, passed on before they did any real living. Here is an abridged version:

1967/1968

Dear Civilians, Friends, Draft Dodgers, etc.
     In the very near future, the undersigned will once more be in your midst, dehydrated and demoralized, to take his place once again as a human being with the well-known forms of freedom and justice for all; engage in life, liberty and the somewhat delayed pursuit of happiness. In making your joyous preparations to welcome him back into organized society you might take certain steps to make allowances for the past twelve months. In other words, he might be a little Asiatic from Vietnamesitis and Overseasitis, and should be handled with care. Don't be alarmed if he is infected with all forms of rare tropical diseases. A little time in the "Land of the big PX" will cure this malady.
     ...show no alarm if he insists on carrying a weapon to the dinner table, looks around for his steel pot when offered a chair, or wakes you up in the middle of the night for guard duty...Pretend not to notice if he acts dazed, eats with his fingers instead of silverware and prefers C-rations to steak. Take it with a smile when he insists on digging up the garden to fill sandbags for the bunker he is building. Be tolerant when he takes his blanket and sheet off the bed and puts them on the floor to sleep on.
   ...Do not be alarmed if he should jump up from the dinner table and rush to the garbage can to wash his dish with a toilet brush. After all, this has been his standard...if it should start raining, pay no attention to him if he pulls off his clothes, grabs a bar of soap and towel and runs outdoors for a shower.
     ...Do not let it shake you up if...he says "Roger out" for good-by or simply shouts "Working".
     ...by no means mention the word "extend." Pretend not to notice if at a restaurant he calls the waitress "Numbah 1 girl" and uses his hat as an ashtray. He will probably keep listening for "Homeward Bound" to sound off over AFRS [Armed Forces Radio Station]. If he does, comfort him, for he is still reminiscing. Be especially watchful when he is in the presence of women--especially a beautiful woman.
     Above all, keep in mind that beneath that tanned and rugged exterior there is a heart if gold (the only thing of value he has left). Treat him with kindness, tolerance, and an occasional fifth of good liquor and you will be able to rehabilitate that which was once (and now a hollow shell) of the happy-go-lucky guy you once knew and loved.
     Last, but not least, send no more mail to the APO [Army Post Office], fill the ice box with beer, get the civvies out of mothballs, fill the car with gas, and get the women and children off the streets--BECAUSE THE KID IS COMING HOME!!!

Love, Dave

To read these personal letters to loved ones is to know these young people & their loved ones so intimately. War may seem like some distant, far away place, especially when it happens to others. But war affects us all, & one way or another, we all pay the costs--& some will pay so much more than others.

Books like these often make me think. I don't think we truly appreciate the sacrifice & hardships of those who volunteer to serve our country, & we don't realize the challenges & burdens faced by the families & loved ones of those who serve. These people, these servicemen & servicewomen & their loved ones are just people like us. And they deserve so much respect, better treatment, & support for all the hardships they face & the challenges they must deal with daily.

I wonder, perhaps if military service was compulsory for a year or two after high school--like they do similarly in places like Switzerland & Israel--then maybe people would appreciate & treat our servicemen & servicewomen with the respect & honor they deserve. Even people who object to war on religious grounds should still be able to provide service in a support capacity. If everyone served in the military & had a stake in the security & safety of our country & people, maybe we would think twice before rushing off to war & do better in treating & caring for our wounded, deceased, & returning veterans & their families.

This book was one of the best finds & greatest books that I've ever read. I highly recommend it. War has a cost and it has a face. It must be a cost we are willing to pay, because the face of war is human, & the cost is always us. One way or another, we all pay the price, so it better be for something worth the effort & sacrifice.

And that's the end of the book review for July. See MJ's, IDV's, & Mago's for their reviews. Feel free to share with us what books you've read; your thoughts & recommendations are welcomed & appreciated. Keep reading, be it online or actual books or magazines. Share the gift of reading. And pass on a good book or story or recommendation to others. Sharing our knowledge & perspectives & information can only make us better, wiser, & stronger. When we work together, we become better people, & we make the world a better, more beautiful place. Happy reading!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Birthday, USA!

4 July 1776. Has it really been 240 years since we raised a ruckus & struck out on own? It's been a heck of a ride, full of twists & turns, & the journey is far from over.

So many people from so many places made it possible for us to be here today, so Thank You: Native Americans, France, Poland, Spain, Dutch Republic, Dubrovnik, Morocco, League of Armed Neutrality, & a couple of you Germanic nations (the ones that supported us)! Thank you to the many people & nations who supported us in the struggle.

We will cherish your contributions to our Independence as we gorge on hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, beer, & BBQ, all while waving our American Flags (Made in China); watching the dazzling fireworks (Made in Mexico); & taking pride in our beautiful & precious lands (Stolen from the Native Americans). Happy Birthday, America!!!

This our home now, & it's always in need of repair, maintenance, & remodeling to keep it in working order & to keep up with the changing times. Sure, we've made some terrible design choices, but we always have the power--the will, if not the resources--to make things right. It may have its flaws--character--but it's home, & I can't imagine living anywhere else, & I like doing my part to make it a better place. Together, we can make this place even more amazing & more wonderful for all who want to live here.

So Cheers to the Founding Fathers & to those who came after & kept this place safe & thriving. It's our turn now to make things right, to make things better, to ensure that this place survives & thrives & be a safe, wonderful, amazing place for anyone who wants to experience freedom & make it their home. Happy Independence Day, America! To freedom & liberty & justice for all!