In December of 2007, I met a couple on the beach I hadn’t seen for many months. I asked where they had been and they told me Vietnam. I asked if there were any visible memories of the war that had been fought there in the 1960s and 1970s. They said the aftermath of the war was obvious. Many people were missing limbs from encounters with land mines. Some children were using metal detectors to search for shards of scrap metal in an attempt to earn money. People continue to die each year when they happen upon unexploded mines.
The jungle where the defoliant, Agent Orange, was sprayed has not properly re-grown. Even after over thirty years it remains stunted scrub, rather than regenerating into the vigorous and verdant jungle it had been before.
Yet, despite this devastation, there remains hope. In an attempt to kick start forestation, there are massive tree planting programmes underway using hardy, fast growing species such as Australian eucalypts. Vietnam is a young country. Something like 60% of the population has been born since the war ended in 1973. Despite pervasive poverty, most Vietnamese seem to hold no animosity towards the Americans and other foreigners who contributed to such destruction on their soil.
I asked this elderly New Zealand couple why they went to Vietnam. They replied that they lived a comfortable life in this beautiful country and they felt it was too easy to become complacent and insular. They wanted to see for themselves that some people don’t have it as good as we do.
I have friends who are Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Baha’is. I have friends whose unspoken religion is their deep connection with nature.
Wouldn’t it be appropriate that at this time in which many celebrate the birth of one of the greatest teachers this world has known that we take time to reflect on that which unites, rather than separates us? We are each a special son or daughter of a mother and a father. We each have a beating heart, and deep within each of these beating hearts is, I believe, a similar wish and that wish is for peace.
Blessings to you all this holiday season.