tucked away, in the basement of my childhood home, is a long, concrete-floored stretch of space—my dad’s workshop. it is filled with wood pieces and tools, paints and stains and benches and, often, while growing up, the noise of various machines, the smell of sawdust…and my father’s creative and capable mind.
back far enough and around the corner are a few of my parents’ more personal things—things collected and kept from decades of beautiful life and living.
my brothers and i occasionally enjoyed playing in this space. it was mysterious and largely unchartered territory in our home. we might have moved a few things around in an attempt to fashion good hiding places, but we rarely opened boxes, opened drawers or looked too deeply at what was sitting on the shelves.
one rainy day, however, i remember coming across a small book. it was a journal that my dad wrote in while he was in vietnam. with respect for my dad’s personal thoughts and words, and maybe fear for what i might not be able to unread, my eyes only skimmed across a couple of sentences that day—enough to realize what it was and to tuck it safely back in its space…but those couple of sentences stayed with me. they went to work instigating thought, awareness, connection and understanding.
outside of an experience, none of us truly know what another soul goes through or what becomes part of them. even though i have listened closely, during the very few times that my dad has shared about his time in vietnam, those words in that journal, maybe as fresh-feeling in that moment as the moment they were inked, brought with them insight and a deepened sense of compassion. they brought an appreciation for what it must have been like to leave behind friends that had become family—friends who would not be returning home, what it must have been like to dig holes to sleep in at night in the jungle, what it must have been like to be forced to take direction from our government, what it must have been like to return to a home full of protestors…and what it must have been like to reenter the world of everyday living with a special brand of weight that, again, none of the rest of us will ever be familiar with.
we can’t un-see what we have seen.
we can’t un-hear what we have heard.
we can’t un-touch all that we have touched.
these are steady truths in a world full of ever-shifting boundaries and ways.
we can, however, accept and appreciate that all of our experiences come together to create who we are and have some sort of significance in the storybook of our lives. all of our experiences, regardless of how difficult or lasting they seem, support the growth of our character and our soul.
i don’t know whether my dad ever wishes that his time in vietnam wasn’t a part of his journey. i hope not…because he is one of the most brilliant, kind, compassionate and humble beings that i have known, and any change in the quilting of his life might mean a change in the quality of his presence.
we each have what we have, and we’re all moving forward with it.
to all veterans;
may what no longer serves be lifted and peace be with you always.