In the two and half page letter my father wrote to his parents, most of it is a discussion about the weather. He remarks that someone told him that it was cold back in the states. Then, he talks about how Vietnam has two seasons – “hot and dry” and “hot and wet.”
This stuck in my head because it is one of the safest topics you can talk about to someone. When you meet someone, commenting on the weather is a go-to topic to get the conversation started. Yet, in this letter, my father is connecting with his parents from halfway around the world. He doesn’t need the weather to get the conversation started. He needs the weather to make what his life is in that moment feel normal again.
Right after the description of the weather is what I expected to read when he gave me this set of letters. He talks about how “Charlie” fired on them the night before. He compares the enemy fire to the louder sound of the firing from his unit. He’s heard them enough that they have become normal to him. They are so part of his daily routine that he sleeps right through them.
I have heard cannon shots a few times in my life, and they have always startled me even though I knew they were coming. I can remember the vibrations from the sound in my chest. I think about my father in his bed, his eyes closed, and his chest vibrating from the concussive blows of the guns nearby. I wondered if for a second his heart rouses his brain and then his brain reminds his heart that it is our fire and not the enemy that it hears.
I think in life, we can become so desensitized the trauma around us that we no longer see it. We walk past homeless people with our eyes closed. We see injustice and we don’t question whether we should fix the system that is broken that caused the injustice. We accept hate and complain that there is not enough love in the world.
At this time in our society, there are huge 105 mm howitzers blasting away and vibrating our hearts. Sometimes, we listen to our hearts and for a few seconds we start to move to action – whether fight or flight. Then, our brain tells us that it is our fire and not the enemies or that even if it is the enemies, it will not affect our sleep tonight.
What does it take to make someone hear the 105 mm howitzers again and to care enough to make them stop? Because on the other size of the field or mountain of the war is someone like my father, sleeping despite the sound of rounds falling around him. Maybe he is huddled into a small space underground or camouflaged in a tree. I wonder if the next day, he wrote a letter to his parents talking about the nuances of the “hot and dry” season they were having and at the end mentioned that he was not afraid of the enemy fire falling around him.
What is to be learned from this moment? What will stick with me after I leave this time? There is a song I heard recently that I have fallen in love with because it does in me what the title asks it to do: Did Trouble Me. Trouble me, oh Lord. Trouble me in a way that my heart startles from its sleep. Trouble me in a way that shushes my brain’s excuses as to why I should not stand; why I should not speak. Trouble me, Lord, in a way that makes me rush across the field to the man on the other side of the war.
In the earlier part of this letter, my father mentions that he received a package from his parents. Very likely, that package contained at least one tin of chocolate-chip cookies. My grandmother was known for her cookies, and I have fond memories of receiving my own box of baked goods in December for Christmas. In my mind, I can see my father grabbing that tin of cookies as he rushes out of his tent to stop this crazy war. If only cookies could make the barriers that divide us crumble, make hatred cease, and heal our hearts so that we could live in peace. Do trouble me, Lord. Do trouble me.