Sunday, February 29, 2004

Welp, are ye fully ready for some serious Sri Lankan Journey blogging ?!?!?

This whole entry could be subentitled, "What an incredible difference a couple of weeks makes, thanking all gods & godesses !~!~!"

Two weeks gone, since the trauma that Soraia and I experienced with Thor contracting rabies, which resulted in me having to mercy-kill him and for us to take an emergency trip to Colombo to get the serum treatment we needed in addition to the regular vaccine treatment we were getting in Mutur. Alls well that ends well, as the Bard dramatically waxed and waned in one of his comedies, and we are for this wonderful day all well as far as we know, and what we don’t know we can’t worry about, or at least that is what I chose to do, or not to do, more appropriately I suppose . . .

As I briefly noted in my February 16th entry, my plans were certainly derailed a couple of weeks ago to upload some pictures and blog a bit about whaz’s been going on with me the last couple of months. As so often happens for us silly humanikins, I was heavily impacted by the old Yiddish saying, being politically correct, which is also more poetically alliterative, “Persons plan, and God laughs!~!~!”

Soraia and I got back to Mutur with no further rising of any cricks, but I wasn’t able to follow-through on any of my hoped for blogging, mostly because I needed to just simply chill out a bit and just be with myself and my frazzled, albeit un-frizzled, head, which I did. Then we went back to Colombo on Tuesday, a day earlier than planned – ah yup, that ole God certainly has been laughing up to beat the band, and I don’t think it’s Dixieland, either -- for the Election Monitoring Training the rest of last week. Earlier this week, I traveled to Kurunegala to perform the first phase of Election Monitoring, the Closing of the Nominations. Don’t have a picture yet of me in my spiffy, election-moniteering costume with day glow orange-yellow hat and day glow yellow-orange arm band, but soon I trust I shall, whenever I take the time to have Soraia take one . . .

This very lengthy, no doubt, blog entry will be in three parts, the first sharing a couple of recent pieces of writing I’m pretty pleased with, the second, a long over-due pictorial section, showing bunches of the recent pictures I’ve taken, and the third, relating a bit about whaz been going on with me the last couple of months:

Part One: Two recent writing pieces . . .

Last Saturday afternoon, sitting by the Indian Ocean on the second floor of a wonderful Sri Lankan seaside restaurant, where I had a delicious calamari meal and watched another gorgeous Sri Lankan roseglow sunset, I was able to do two writing projects.

First, I was able to finish the following poem, the spine of which I sketched out, while visiting Colombo on February 4th, as noted in the Valentine Day entry . . .

roseglow fades

satin sheen of setting sun shimmers across wide stretch of sea
strong breezes toss palm fronds in flail of haphazard dance
way up the beach in misty dusk the squat towers of WTC Colombo gleam

as the huge, dull-red, cloud-smoked, half-ball swiftly descends in to horizon
a profusion of roseglow gently fades, becoming soft twilight shadows
like these faraway memories of another WTC Twin Towers:

• that dinner at Windows on the World with Dad
tautly mothered by Mother after Broadway matinee,
when Sara and I still pretended to be a couple

• Eric and Brian, duly impressed sons-in-law from Maryland,
ooing and ahhing from on high at the spread out twinkling scene
of New York metropolis night-scape, a full 110 floors up top

• looming tall, I caught random glimpses of the towers for the last time
during the NYC Century Bike Tour all day, Sunday, September 9, 2001
in every calm-before-the-firestorm neighborhood of my faraway home

February 4, 2004
Mt. Lavinia Hotel, Colombo

Secondly, I started a project that I have been procrastinating about for almost two years, a memoir piece on my visit to My Lai on March 5, 2002 as part of my return healing trip back to Vietnam. I am very pleased with this piece, about which I’ve received some very positive response from several members of the Brainstorms community I’ve belonged to since September of 2000. It was very healing for me to write this piece, not only for what happened during my experience of the Vietnam War 36 years ago, but for the period of struggle I have recently been experiencing:

It’s several pages long, but, ah yup, I’m putting it up right here. So, those not wanting to trip down a decidedly not so lovely memory lane can exercise there digital editorial prerogative to scroll right on down to Part Two for da pretty pictures and/or click a lightning fast quick, “I’m outta here, dude . . .”

The Visit to My Lai

There is no way I could prepare for the visit to the My Lai Memorial Park I made with the TOP tour group on the afternoon of March 5, 2002. I fully expected it to be one of the lowlights of my return trip to Vietnam after 34 years. I accepted that it was a requisite ordeal for healing; nevertheless, it was an experience I anticipated with considerable dread, especially since I was still in the warm afterglow of having had such a positive experience the day before at the Ah Nhon orphanage, the scene of the most traumatic experience I had during my tour of duty in Vietnam .

The tour bus pulled into the parking lot, and the first impression I had, seeing the refreshment and souvenir stand, was that it was going to be like a theme park. I made a smart-ass remark to that effect to fellow tour member, Wally, who wasn’t amused. Silly, cynical me, trying to use denial of foxhole humor to shield me from fully facing the belly of the beast of what my war was, of what any war just awfully is.

Being the loner that essentially I am, I detached myself from others in the group and went off on my own. I walked through the front entrance and was immediately aware of how un-theme-park-like a place it is. Beautifully landscaped gardens surround stone walkways lined with hedges and somber monuments, attesting to the brutal reality that “Here Mr. Nguyen and his family were killed.” “Here died Mme. Ahn and her three children.” The profusely blooming flowers offered some solace.

In the center of the park I gazed up at the large, rough-hewn stone, memorial statute, fashioned in a Soviet heroic-style for what seemed like an eternity. It portrayed women and children in grotesque poses of unutterable suffering, pleading with outstretched arms for some merciful god or goddess to intervene on their behalf. There were, unfortunately, no gods or goddesses on duty for petition, I suppose, on that awful day.

I walked into the Museum on the south side of the park. It was filled with black and white, blown-up photographs of the massacre, with voluminous commentary in English, French and Vietnamese. Slowly I read through the account of the terrible events with their vile pictorial testimony of what happened on March 16, 1968. I felt a chill go through me, realizing what I had been unaware of previously, that I had still been in country on that fateful day. I remembered that Task Force English, to which I read Calley’s unit was attached, was one of my primary customers for re-supply from my area of the Qui Nhon depot about a hundred kilometers to the south. I had accompanied a couple of convoys in my gun-jeep to their forward supply point near Bong Song during those frenetic days after the devastating Tet Offensive of ’68, when psychologically the U.S. lost the war.

I stood for a long while before an almost life-sized photograph of Lt. William Calley in a suit with a silly grin on his Alfred E. Newman face, taken during his trial, I stared into what I interpreted were his hollow, vacuous eyes, trying to get some sense of who this man was. At first I was filled with revulsion, scorching condemnation, self-righteous indignation, which mirrored the rhetoric of the Vietnamese government’s official account of that black day, not much different from a typical American government official’s depiction of the horror of another notorious day in history, September 11, 2001.

Reading that Calley was a 90-day OCS wonder, I reflected upon my own inadequate preparation as an ROTC-trained junior officer to be a platoon commander in charge of a group of teenagers in the brutal insanity of guerrilla warfare in Vietnam. In truth, it was only the grace of a beneficent Higher Power that prevented me from being ensnared in a similar incident. With a command voraciously hungry for body counts, with the unwritten rules of engagement we had, especially during the reactive days following Tet, when we were trying so desperately to convince ourselves we were winning the war, if not the hearts and minds of the people, with the callow prejudice so prevalent toward the people whose freedom we were supposedly risking our lives to protect, many small unit leaders on the ground were faced with making inexorable decisions that often resulted in the death of innocent civilians among whom were seamlessly integrated our guerrilla VC enemy combatants.

I was able to extend a bit of forgiving compassion towards Calley, surely a karmic victim of the insanity of war as much as the innocent civilians who died as a result of his horrendous orders -- as well, I was able to experience a bit of forgiving compassion for myself too. In addition, I had the opportunity to do Tonglen Buddhist practice to forgive my judgmental derision that only Calley was scapegoated with a Court Martial, while his company commander, Captain Medina, as well as battalion higher ups, who were certainly aware of what had happened and actively had participated in its cover-up for months after it occurred, faced no negative consequences to their careers as a result of that appalling day. Who knows what may still haunt them in their sleeping and waking nightmares?

I also stood for a long while in front of the photograph of Hugh Thompson and his helicopter crew, reading of his valor, his integrity, his dedication to honor and principle, wishing that we had more true heroes of his caliber all throughout the ranks of our military might. Thompson’s heroic actions, doing what he could to deter the senseless slaughter of civilians, were the flip-side of the same coin of Calley and potentially myself.

After a long while, I left the museum and walked through the rest of the park. We were to meet with a survivor from My Lai, and I certainly didn’t want to miss that. Toward the extreme western boundary of what once had been the series of interconnected hamlets known as My Lai I came upon the infamous ditch, in to which hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children, a scattering of elderly men, Calley had ordered to be herded and mercilessly gunned down by the young troopers of Charlie Company.

There it just starkly was, covered in the shade of thick foliage from the encroaching jungle, through which dappled sunlight streamed, creating surreal contrasts of highlights. In the ditch were a couple of inches of brackish water, filled with rotting leaves and brown palm fronds. It was eerily quiet, the profound silence interrupted from time to time by the hoots of a distant jungle creature or the buzzing of a nearby insect. It was very difficult to imagine in the quiet tranquility of that mid-afternoon of March 5, 2002, just shy of the 34th anniversary of the massacre, that this serene jungle scene could have been the site of such ineffable horror. Ominously, as if to remind me of the reality of what had in truth taken place that long ago day, one platform, high-heeled shoe lay half-submerged on its side.

On a grassy knoll about 50 meters away from the ditch, I could see the rest of the group gathering around a petite, frail-looking, elderly woman, dressed in the typical peasant wear of white blouse and black pajama bottoms with a conical hat. No doubt she was the My Lai survivor Jess, the Tour Leader had informed us we would be meeting. Gathered around her with us were several Vietnamese, including some of her children and grandchildren. Earlier she had had a very moving encounter with Wally, which he describes in this passage:

The visit to the site of My Lai was the one that I dreaded most of all. I felt apprehensive when our tour bus pulled into the parking lot of what is now a memorial to that dark day in 1968. The attack on My Lai occurred when I was a soldier in country but I didn’t hear of it until several months after I returned home. The appalling events that I read about now took on a reality as I walked down the hedged pathway and onto the grassy park of the former village. As I went from one mound to the other that marked the destroyed houses, each with a brass plaque listing the names of the dead, an old Vietnamese woman came toward me. Without a word we took each other’s hands, then embraced, and wept. I didn’t know who she was, but a person I needed to share a deep sorrow with. We walked hand-in-hand along the path toward our group gathering on the lawn under the trees. Only then did I realize that this old woman was a survivor of the massacre. I sat next to her as she told her dreadful story, all the while plucking the weeds and fulfilling her duty to keep the hallowed ground clean. Her smiling grandchildren and other children stood near, an innocent counterpoint to the past horror of war.

I did not need a visit to My Lai to be reminded of the inhumanity that I personally witnessed as a soldier, but the forgiveness that a survivor of that inhumanity gave in a place that concentrates the worst that war can bring is a gift made more precious and potent by that very contrast. I am repaying her gift and making my peace with the Vietnamese people by working with new friends in Vietnam to help disadvantaged children.

The woman’s story was incredibly moving, and she told it with such matter-of-fact, quiet dignity in a soft, steady voice. Spellbound, in rapt attention we listened to her words, mesmerized by her methodical weeding, each phrase slowly translated by our Vietnamese guide and interpreter. She was 42 years old in 1968. She was shot in the thigh and side. She survived by hiding motionless underneath the body of her 14 year-old daughter until the American soldiers left. She told us that she was very grateful, not only to have survived that terrible morning, but that she was still alive in good health. She was so privileged to be able to spend her days tending to the My Lai memorial. She was especially grateful to be of some comfort to the many American soldiers who visited, such as Wally, who needed so much forgiveness. It made her very happy and satisfied to be of service.

What an incredible lesson in forgiveness and compassion, if only the leaders of my nation were as wise, as sensible. With unutterable grace, she thanked us, got up and left. I got up and walked back down by the ditch and following her lucid example of simple service did what I could do – I started policing the area, picking up refuse and sticks, finding here and there a cigarette butt that I carefully and methodically field-stripped, like a ritual tea ceremony, for the first time over three decades.

When I left the Memorial Park, the two women members of our tour, Jane, the VA employee and former wife of a 100 per cent disabled vet, and Heather, the daughter of a Marine vet, who had prematurely died the year before, were sitting out in the refreshment/souvenir stand playing with several Vietnamese children, including one bright-faced little girl, wearing a Mickey mouse-like hat, who was the survivor’s grand-daughter. It was a hopeful and up-lifting way to end the visit to My Lai. The horror is long gone. Though it should never be fully forgotten, it doesn’t have to be stared at either. We can move beyond it. The expectant future belongs to the young, and they deserve the best that we can fashion for them.

Part Two: Catching up on bunches of pictures . . .

It’s another gorgeous Sunday morning in Sri Lanka. I’m sitting in my rocker, listening to Appalachian Spring, one of my favorite pieces of modern classical music by Aaron Copeland, with a cup of Peppermint tea, looking out my window, watching a flurry of crows, an occasional eagle and an even more rare heron. In a while the sky will be filled with crows and eagles duking it out over scraps of garbage from the fish market, which is dumped into the river right behind our house from the fish market when it closes.

Here is a shot of a crow chasing an eagle:

And here is a frenetic shot of scillions of crows flurrying about over the palm trees I see outside my window:

Here’s a shot of me sitting in my rocker, a new me without the father-time beard and a brand new gapless smile, since I got a new bridge from a dentist in Colombo:

To give you a comparison of what I was looking like, here is a shot of me taken in early January when I was running in the first annual Jaffna Mini-marathon:

On February 6th, Soraia and I moved mostly without incident into our home for the next couple of years in Mutur. The following is a sequence of the first shots I took in our new home:

The Mutur NP house – pretty groovy lime-green roof, eh?

Our presence is fully announced on the wall of our compound . . .

Here’s our neighborhood, looking North . . .

And here’s the neighborhood, looking South . . .

This is the view looking at a banana tree out the North bedroom window; the fish market is across the river to the left . . .

And this is the view East out the side window over the field and palm trees where the crows and eagles roam. You can’t really see it, but there is a very dirty river where Muturians dump lots of their garbage to the left. You can see smoke from a fire in the far neighbor’s yard, burning garbage, which is what lots of Sri Lankans do. Sometimes it smells like a ville in ‘Nam after napalm or Jimmy Goodwill . . .

Jimmy Goodwill was my best friend for a couple of years growing up in Jackson, Mississippi. One early winter morning when we were 10 or 11 years old, we were cooking breakfast out in his back yard. We had started the fire with the help of some gasoline from his father’s lawnmower, and as testosterone-challenged pre-adolescents of the 50s, we were playing a war game, “Bombs over Tokyo”. We were making horrendous bomber plane noises and pouring a bit of gasoline out of a glass on to the fire, simulating the fire-bombing of Tokyo. Such naïve innocence, emulating valiant vets from our Daddy’s war. Welp, Jimmy missed on the last of his runs, poured too much out of the glass and the fire flared up in his face. Stepping quickly back, he tripped and poured a couple of ounces of gasoline all over his heavy winter coat, which immolated him in a blaze of fire. He started running around the backyard. As fate, his and mine, would have it, I had read of a similar incident in the Boy Scout magazine, Boy’s Life, just the week before, so I did what the main character in the article had done: I chased Jimmy down, tackled him, and rolled him around in the frost-covered lawn until the flames were extinguished. Jimmy survived, but he was very badly burned. His face and hands were horribly disfigured, and he spent most of his adolescent years undergoing multiple reconstructive surgeries. I received a “Kid of the Week” award with a prize of a Book of Knowledge encyclopedia set on the Pinky Lee Show. I remember visiting Jimmy a couple of times in the hospital, but lost track of him during my adolescence. When I was visiting Jackson recently, I called a phone number of the only Jimmy Goodwill listed in the directory and left a message on an answering machine, but if it was him, he never returned the call, and I have no idea what his life has been like . . .

Time to look, being still for awhile in the Tonglen practice of embracing the sanctity of remembered loss and suffering, at the Mesa I made in my room, filled with sacred objects and talismans I have accumulated over the years, many most recently in my travels, from the sea below, the earth in the middle and the ethereal regions above both:

* * * * *

The serenity corner I’ve created for myself with the rocker, the standing lamp, only a precious few of my books, as well as the absolutely essential pictures and knickknacks, of course to include the Rose Flag from Vietnam . . .

The view from my rocker. You can’t really see it, but I have a photo of the “Imagine” mosaic from Strawberry Fields, the memorial to John Lennon in Central Park, one of my favorite places up in the window so I can see it when I’m watching the crows and eagles in flight. I also have a very primitive Sri Lankan folk art drawing on cork of a cheetah-like leopard. Stored in Bonnie’s garage with the scant remainder of my lifetime accumulation of stuff that I didn’t sell or give away, when I left both Long Island in 2001 and Tucson this past September, I have a wonderful print of three cheetahs on the plains of Africa. For years, the Cheetah was my totem animal, after one appeared to me in a guided imagery exercise with Harville Hendrix , during the Imago Relationship training I experienced with him in the 1990, a whole nuther lifetime in time and distance away from where I am today . . .

So, I’m most grateful to have been able to make a cozy little nest for myself here in Mutur, where I am quite comfortable during off time from NP duty, spinning these words on meMacMojo, reading, watching the Sri Lanka crow, eagle, heron and chipmunk-squirrel world go by against the backdrop of stunning palm trees and splendid skies.

* * * * *

Back after the large noon-time meal. I roasted for the first time a chicken in the rotisserie oven Soraia and I got for the kitchen. Luckily the power stayed on and didn’t interrupt the cooking cycle. Yesterday we had power cuts, a fairly regular occurrence, on and off all day and a couple of times last night. I also deep-fried some okra in a flour batter. The one store in Mutur that I now know has cornmeal didn’t have any this morning. Not bad, with a good long-grained, Palestinian-seasoned rice that Soraia cooked. Yesterday, I was able to make a fairly decent cheddar cheese corn chowder, one of my favorite dishes. Supplementing what we can’t get here in Mutur with weekly shopping trips to Trinco and monthly forays to Colombo, where there are honest-to-Allah/Shiva/Buddha real, Western-style supermarkets, some even with gourmet items, culinarily-speaking, I’ll be more than comfortable as well.

Friday night, Soraia and I took one of our regular Peace Bike rides late in the afternoon to watch the sunset over the headwaters of the Mahaweli Ganga River, which is Sri Lanka’s largest River, starting up on Adam’s Peak that we walked beside with Liv in December. The following is a sequence of pictures, both of the sunset and of some of the sites in my new hometown:

The remains of the Imperial Theatre, which was destroyed during the “Troubles” in 1987.

Looking through the still-standing front door of the theatre into the Box Office area and beyond, now naturally air-conditioned . . .

The setting sun through trees across from the theatre . . .

Almost gone . . .

Gone . . .

But not forgotten . . .

Barbwire silhouetted . . .

This is one of the most famous landmarks in Mutur, even in the entire Eastern Province. It is White Man’s Tree with several local citizens, who were most delighted to see themselves on my digital camera:

And here’s what the sign reads . . .

Always the children . . .

This shot reminded me of the many shots I took 36 years ago in Vietnam of children, especially those bright-eyed innocents at An Nhon Orphanage – it is so much the same, it so incredibly and radically, thank god, different . . .

And so ends Part Two, the Pictorial sequence of this elongated, perhaps bloated blog entry . . .

Part Three: Whaz been up the last couple of months . . .

The holidays and most of the last couple of months were hard, real hard, harder than I anticipated. I hit the wall of the holidays just about the same time that I became aware that the “honeymoon” phase of this part of my life’s journey, the Sri Lankan Chapter, was over. I found myself seriously questioning why in my 61st year I have manifested this repetition in my life to be so far and distant from everything known, loved and dear. I was incredibly homesick, missing friends, family and the lives I had had both on Long Island and while on the road in the ltbrinmobile RV, as well as the life I had manifested for myself in Tucson. Yet, I also felt so alienated still from the politics and cultural vacuum that my society has become – I mean who really cares, besides Ascroftit-phobics, that Janet Jackson’s tit was exposed on national television, for some deity’s sake. And the war in Iraq, resembling more and more the quagmire of my war in Vietnam, stumbled along with it’s daily toll of KIAs, mostly innocent Iraqi civilians, while the political rhetoric of my country’s four-year “choice” of one side or the other of the same coin gathered decibels of sound-bytes and pixels in online press accounts. And really where was Lt. Bush in ’72 besides getting his teeth filled at taxpayer’s expense, when Kerry was VVAW-ing in D.C. anyway ? ? ?

The trip to Mumbai in mid-January to attend the World Social Forum offered little solace. I was alone, by myself, and I suppose with the holidays I was acutely aware of being without a partner with which to share this earth-side trip. Mumbai is an incredibly congested, crowded, teeming, dirty metropolis of staggering contrasts, such as gleaming concrete, glass and steel high rises next to the largest slums in Asia; ostentatious luxury next to abject poverty; Bollywood glitter vs. Hindu fundamentalism tearing down theatres showing Fire; cell phones and beggars in a turbulent swirl of Maya. I mean I am used to New York City subways, but I could not believe how many humans could be sardined into the local trains I traveled, especially when I had to push my way through a mass of crushed humanity to get off onto the platform at my stop, which was on the opposite side of the car from where I was.

One of the most searing sights I’ve ever seen, about which I have been procrastinating writing a poem, was a young man, late teens/early twenties, in late-stage aids, I presume, many open and oozing sores, decimated, curled up in a quasi-fetal position, shivering, in the thick dust of a gutter strew with garbage, right next to this huge Mercedes, a dark blue, diesel-powered sedan. Numbed, I walked right on by, just like I did 36 years ago at the Ah Nhon orphanage, but I haven‘t suppressed it, at least not yet, so why don’t I write the poem to insure that I don’t? Maybe I will later tonight.

The World Social Forum had a lot of incredible energy, but I was there by myself. Most folks were there in large contingents of comrades, or with partners. I would walk around, like the loner I am, strike up a superficial conversation for awhile and then move on, like a lost butterfly, flitting from here to there, from workshop to workshop. It also struck me on the second day that I’ve been hearing much the same revolutionary rhetoric for over 35 years. Che was in top form, many t-shirts and banners celebrating the anniversary of his death? Or was it his birthday? Don’t remember. Perhaps, I’m a cynical old fuck, but I don’t see a realistic potential of the repressed and downtrodden billions of the third world in the Southern hemisphere truly manifesting “Another World is Possible.” On the day that the delegate from Vietnam made a rousing speech full of revolutionary rhetoric about people being victorious, her government signed an agreement with World Trade Organization for trade and financial incentives. I mean really. The bankers and their political minions, beholden to corporate masters, are still pulling the strings of power, and why is the U.S. and Britain in Iraq anyway, with a scattering of lesser powers, Poland for Buddha’s sake ? ? ?

The trip started off rather badly: first, I was unaware that India doesn’t recognize Sri Lankan currency. The routine is that you convert to USD at Colombo airport, then to Indian rupees in India. Thank goodness my Visa Checkcard worked, so I was able to draw cash from my offshore account. Then, the really nice Sea Princess Hotel where I had booked and paid for the first night with the WSF travel agent had no record of my reservation. Too bad I had a confirming letter and reservation number; it didn’t match their records, so no tickee for roomee white foreigner. They were kind enough to get me a room for $25 USD more a night at a 5th-rate hotel nearby, or else like many latecomers to WSF without reservations, I may have been homeless in Mumbai, sleeping under a communal tent at the Exhibition Grounds where the forum was held. I was as well very frustrated in not being able to get to the Gandhi National Memorial, having two taxi drivers take me to the wrong address, and I was also unable to get to an AA meeting, getting ensnared in a telephone tree of numbers, trying to communicate with folks who didn’t speak English and referred me to numbers that didn’t work or answer.

So, okay. Enough ranting. I did have some nice times, like several gorgeous runs, both at sunrise and sunset on Juhu Beach by the Arabian Sea. I got to the Temple Iskcon, near the third-rate hotel I stayed at, the home site of the Hare Krishna movement, started by Swami Prabhupada in Tompkins Square Park in 1966, when two proto-hippies, Bruce and Dave, I believe were their names, started spontaneously dancing as he chanted the Hare Krishna chant – that was a trip down a callow part of my callow youth. But, hey, I’ve been chanting Hare Krishna daily since, and I’m doing much better, so you just never know. I also had a nice day trip to Elephanta Island, visiting some 2nd century caves where there was an incredible, huge three-headed statue displaying three of the four aspects of Shiva, the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer; I forget now what the fourth, un-sculptured, aspect is. I had several fine meals, and I enjoyed spending an hour in the Prince Phillip Museum. I also got to see a play in English, which gave me the seed thought to maybe do some playwriting here in Sri Lanka. Oh, and in an Espresso Café, celebrating Cuba with lots of Che memorabilia, I saw this most delightful poster, which appealed to my macabre sense of humor, even if it reflects my non-non-violent side: It was a picture of Castro with a long smoking cigar, and the caption read, “Sure smoking kills, but then tanks, grenades and firing squads are a lot faster.”

Last week while starting the memoir piece on the visit to My Lai, it hit me that this is the anniversary period when 36 years ago I experienced the most traumatic times of my tour, mid January through my return to the States on April 4th, the period just before Tet, through the Tet Offensive until my “Homecoming” in D.C., landing at National Airport a couple of hours after Martin Luther King had been assassinated. No wonder, I’ve been a bit squirrelly around the edges; it amazes me the ability I have still of missing the obvious. No doubt, this anniversary time has been especially charged because, like 36 years ago, I’m back in the bush again, doing radically different work, true, as a Peace Warrior instead of a War Warrior, but like the photo of the “Always Children” above, as the old 60s song intoned, “There is always something to remind me . . . “

Just having this realization, plus taking the action of making the plans to meet Bonnie in England for a couple of weeks in August, plus time and the grace of change always happens, I’ve the past week been doing much, much better. This last piece of writing I’ll put up for this very elongated blog entry hopefully conveys my experience of grace again:

6:24 p.m., Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Viveka Hotel, Kurunegala, Sri Lanka

Waning moments of another day. Sitting in fairly comfortable antique rattan chair on pleasant veranda of the 150 year-old guest house named Viveka Hotel. Listening to a 50s-style big band with show-piano trilling and full string section soaring such classics as “Moon River,” “Begin the Beguine” and “September Song” – the simple poignancy of it so crystal clear I want to keen a thousand Tonglens throughout the whole, spinning Kosmos, gathering all the Maya in to one big black hole of a pill to swallow once and for all to be forever done with. Not to be. Instead, I watch and listen to the ubiquitous crows soar about and cackle at each other as the sun settles behind a mostly overcast Western sky behind the dry bed of Kurunegala Tank under reconstruction, the now idle construction machines looking like strange stick-creatures from alien lands, and being labeled Isuzu, Cat and Mitsubishi, I guess they are. A monkey hoots somewhere near, and the breeze softly flows through the Sri Lankan Lion Flag. I think since it’s the cool of an early evening, I’ll go for a bit of a walk; Lord knows, I need the exercise . . .

* * * * *

I am so glad I did that !~!~! I really needed to get out and be somewhat active, after the day of passively Election Monitoring. It was an absolutely lovely walk, over an hour through twilight into the dark of night, all around Kurunegala Tank, mostly dry and sporadically crossed with construction paths, here and there a rancid, stagnant pool of water. The light was dusk magical, and the homes around the Northern end of the Tank were Malibu like, some of the most attractive I’ve seen in Sri Lanka with beautifully landscaped gardens and sculptured walls. The smell of jasmine was heavenly. A heifer, half-way between calf and cow, moaned a long, low mow and scampered about, first chasing its tail, then prancing after a white, plastic bag, blowing in the American Beauty-like evening breeze – can a cow become rabid? Directly opposite the large, white-pink Buddha, serenely sitting on the black outcropping of Etagala rock, cell phone towers a anachronistic crown, I stood for a long-while in the roseglow of the fading sun, while from all four directions of my peripheral vision hundreds of herons, pink-tinged wings in twilight swooping, swirled into two large trees, their cacophonous cries blending with the Muslim call to evening prayers from the minaret of the town Mosque. The remnants of sunset spread one final shot of red-orange blaze across the western sky, starkly silhouetting palm trees and banyan trees in mythical shapes as a thin silver of New Moon with it’s Venus tail brightened the sky immediately overhead.

I was gratefully content. Unlike so much of this recent season of keening grief and black-holed loss beyond the pit of my soul, I whistled a happy tune, marveled at the momentous wonder of the gathering evening, as crickets chirped and bullfrogs croaked and a night bird screeched in a nearby tree, and I felt utterly content with my life this day just the way it has turned out to be. Nice. Such a relief. It doesn’t always have to be so bad. I think I am in this state of grace on the other side again of all the loss, because today while being bored silly just sitting and watching nothing at the Closing of Nominations in my official capacity as an International Election Monitor decked out with day glow orange PAFFREL hat and day glow yellow arm band, I Tonglen-like allowed myself with such fullness just to experience the deep memories of a bunch of the New York places I cherish so much, letting them, free-association-like, stream through my consciousness, not in a maudlin way, lower-lip quivering with suppressed sobs, but instead being bounteously grateful for what they had in my life. I gently and fondly recalled so many dear and deeply loved places around my beloved Manhattan, all throughout Long Island, upstate in Albany and Saratoga and all the places in between. It was really nice just to sit there and be aware of what was going on around me, while also focusing on the incredible, beneficent good that I was blessed with in my 30 years of living in New York. I even fondly focused on memories of places I love in Tucson. Don’t know what the difference was, except that for this day I was not catapulted into the chasm of grief and remorse, but enlivened by the grace of gratitude for who and where I have been. And I don’t need to do anything but gratefully affirm . . .

Thank you Mother/Father Divine for T W is D !~!~!

So, that’s it for this elongated blog session. I hope wherever, dear reader, you are, you are experiencing the fullest of possible good, basking in the grace of light-filled joy, perhaps dancing the light-fantastic full of bubbling belly-laughter, and if not, then I wish for you safe passage through your period of struggle and suffering until you, just as I have again been blessed to perceive, come out the other side with deeper gratitude and awareness of the only Truth there is . . .

Monday, February 16, 2004

Ah, the best laid plans, etc., etc., etc. . .

It's the day after tomorrow, and I can't put up any pictures because I am not in Mutur, I am in Colombo, and I don't have my computer, it's in Mutur by accident because I left it in the van that brought us from Mutur to Colombo yesterday. Long story short, it is safe, and I shall be reunited with it tomorrow morning. Yes, you can imagine how deeply I've been experiencing the perceived terror of one other addiction being ripped out of me, but I am able to breath more deeply, catch a full breath, and my blood pressure is down, I'm sure, several significant notches, since I received confirmation a couple of hours ago that it is, indeed, safe in the presence of our landlord.

So, Whaz been up ? ? ?

Mutur, it turns out did not have the rabies serum, only the vaccination, which Soraia and got a first of five doses of yesterday morning. I was feeling fat, dumb and happy -- always a bad sign -- kicking back in my rocker idly watching the crows outside, waiting for the power to come back on so I could continue with this blog and some other writing I wanted to do yesterday on a fired-up mojo, quietly anticipating a full day with no distractions, I thought -- Opps, not to be, chose once again, old trooper.

Soraia got word from her s.o. who is a doctor in the bush of Brazil, and from a nother NPer, Angie in Batti, that it was imperative that we get not only the vaccine, but a heavy injection of immuglobin and rabies serum around the wounds as well as deeply intramuscular. The NP doctor called to inform us that we needed to get to Colombo as soon as possible for the already considerably overdue innoculation with serum, since Thor-boy puppy had bitten Soraia on Thursday and me on Friday in his early rabid state.

Of course, the ferry had left about a half-hour before, so we were forced to hire a van to take us straight from Mutur to Colombo, fairly expensive, and one long, bouncy trip that took us over six hours with a short rest stop. We then went on a hospital round derby, visiting three hospitals before we found one last night just before 11:00 p.m., who number one had the serum, and number two had a staff compliment, including a doctor, available, who would administer it. Yup, apparently it is a pretty heavy, medically dicey situation to get the serum, because we ended up spending the night in the ICU hooked up with IVs ready to rock and roll if need be and ekg's monitoring us me, the old fart, with my blood pressure sky-rocketing again from the travel and the tiredness and the stress. not the least of which was not knowing for sure if I had left my backpack with mojo in it in the van with a major part of my virtual life intact on it, which returned to Mutur without us.

Drat, how silly of me to think that we would do a long drive to Mutur, get a quick shot, and do a long drive back, so I could spend today on the computer. Not obviously to be. We got out of the hospital finally at 3:00 p.m. this long afternoon. Tonight we will take the night bus back to Trinco, and shall be at our house, 'ceptin' if another crick chooses to rise, in Mutur tomorrow morning about 9:30 a.m. to begin a day-and-a-half of catch-up before we gather again on Wednesday evening with the rest of the NP Team for a training in Monitoring the National Elections in a couple of months. Hmmm, probably won't get any pictures up before the weekend at the earliest . . .

The important thing is that we are safe, for this now, the computer is safe, and I've been getting lots of practice just letting go and accepting myself as the wonderfully, albeit normally flawed, person I am with grace and love and light always in abundance when I remember to do the obvious and focus on it -- read about half of Pema Chodron' When Things Fall Apart again today, lying in bed waiting, waiting, waiting. It is most very comforting . . .

Shall reconnect when I can . . .

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Valentine’s Day, 2004. Once again I am in a strange, foreign land, where I am alone with a sweetheart thousands of miles away.

The first time I was in a strange and foreign land it was 1968, and I was in Vietnam as a faux-warrior officer. My sweetheart was my first wife who had several months earlier given birth to my first child, daughter Rebecca. On that Valentine’s Day, jeez-us, 36 years ago, I rode in my gun jeep through the very scary An Khe and Mang Yang Passes in Vietnam’s Central Highlands with a convoy to Pleiku.

Here’s a picture of me then in my gun jeep with the rose flag and the plastic rose, chomping on C-rats, taken in the Many Yang Pass where we took a break after one of the most harrowing times I experienced in Vietnam, traveling through “Ambush Alley” with many hulks of discarded military vehicles, like huge broken beetles on their horribly broken backs, pushed off the side of the road and down the ravines; napalmed and agent-oranged ridges, dusty bare, rose above on either side with blackened tree stumps. It was a most Boeschian landscape of terror, both externally in reality as well as internally in my heightened imagination:

And here’s a poem I wrote about that awful day then:

valentine's day--1968

dust cakes into pores loosened by streams of sweat
the back and butt rebel at each rutted jolt
eyes tear with irritation and grime

fear like a tickling dream
scurries wetly about in gut

i gaze up the steep barren-stumped cliffs
below which are scattered about
like carcasses of dried locusts
debris of other war machines that didnít make it
as we wind a snail’s pace way up
somewhere beyond the far ridge line

behind me
a grinding rev-straining
filled with crates of 105 ammo
presents of death for sir charles
on this valentine’s day
lumbers through the dust
trailing after my gun-jeep

i wait watching i wait
listening jerkily all
around for swish
of rockets plop
of mortars thud
of grenades whine of
bullets the terrible
swift suddenness of
one mine which
others missed

flitting visions pass the mind in quick revolutions:
--a girl baby tiny and cuddled cooing
--one woman young lonely and fretting
--parents stoically speaking to a uniformed stranger
--sisters huddled around a flag-draped closed coffin
--a mumbled plea for some god to maybe forgive
--the disturbing perfectly sane query

for small comfort is one meager carbine grasped more tightly

February 14, 1968
Pleiku, Vietnam

So, that was then and this is now today, another Valentine’s Day, with my sweetheart of today, Bonnie, a long, long way away in Tucson. I’m in another Asian country as a Peace Warrior deep in the jungle again, I mean far out in the deep bush, a 45 minute plus ferry ride across the beautiful Trincomalee Bay from the nearest town of any substance, Trinco, which takes about 4.5 hours to reach on the very poor road system by vehicle.

I am in my duty station for the next couple of years in Mutur, Sri Lanka, a mostly Muslim town with a small Tamil community of about 500 families and a much smaller number of Sinhalese families, maybe 30, in addition to the numerous Sri Lankan heavily armed Security Forces and National Police, who are highly present during these times of potentially continued conflict between the Muslim and Tamil communities as well as with the heightened tension of the political crises within the Sri Lankan government between the President and the Prime Minister, which shall culminate in a national parliamentary election on April 2nd.

.This is the first entry to my blog in several weeks; I’ve been neglectful, not really too busy, just in a non-writing headspace, at least a non-writing headspace for the semi-public who read this open journal online. I have, however, been doing quite a bit of personal journaling, delving deeper into where I am in my 61st year on the planet this time around and in my 32nd year in “Recovery.” To be truthful, I’ve been struggling; I guess the honeymoon period of my adventure, traveling to far-off Sri Lanka on a peace mission, has passed, and I am faced with dealing with the reality of what I have manifested for myself for the next 2-3 years. To give a flavor of where my head and heart and spirit have been, here are the last two entries of my Journal:

6:33 p.m., Wednesday, February 4. 2004
Mt. Lavinia Hotel Patio, Colombo

Waning moments of Sri Lankan Independence Day, the sun doing it’s usual dazzling show at day’s end. Just wrote the spine of a poem, roseglow, which is nice. The day spent in Colombo getting brand new gapless bright smile and futilely shopping in all the closed stores and shops. Most of the time I was comfortable, not gripped too much with the gut-sinking, tear-spewing grief, mostly accepting and in good comfort with just who I have always mostly been, a loner, walking city streets, exploring places such as the mostly closed Petthah Market by myself.

Ah, the red-orange bright ball of the sun, silhouetting smoky clouds is heavenly, as it slowly disappears forever for this day in the distant horizon – do I hear a sizzle??? Behind me the full bright moon dances with other scurrying clouds.

Though still in deep remorse about my failure in the relationship with Sara, on the bus ride here looking down Hill Street towards the Indian Ocean with the waving Palm Trees, which reminded me so poignantly of being with sweet Bonnie in San Clemente, I had such a deep yearning for this Sri Lankan journey to be done with, so I could go back to Tucson and perhaps settle down with her in a simple life of shared companionship and spiritual exploration, camping, doing some kind of simper service job, maybe living in an RV, being in nature, continuing my writing, whittling down my ego to be a “worker among workers”, doing my poetry in the Tucson poetry community, getting active in recovery, living deeper with nature, finding some peace in my golden years. Would that be possible????

I trust, Father/Mother Divine, T W is D !~!~!

8:15 p.m., Thursday, February 5, 2004
Beach Resort Bedroom, Trincomalee

The time here at the Beach Resort is mostly done, the last evening in the now empty room, everything packed and piled out in the front room, waiting for the adventure of our move to Mutur in a flatbed truck tomorrow. The full moon glints a silvery sheen off the sliver of Indian Ocean I can see through the window and the open door to Dutch Bay. Yes, I shall, indeed, miss the ambience, both the sight and the sound of this place, as well as the always constant cooling breeze off the ocean. Like all, it comes not to stay but to pass.

So a new chapter tomorrow of my wandering adventure of a life begins – the Mutur, Sri Lanka episode. I’m ready, I suppose, even feel a tad bit eager for it to begin with its challenge of stripping myself down to some rather deep essentials, not having many distractions or creature comforts. Nevertheless, with the standing lamp I saw in Colombo yesterday, the rocker, the vestiges of my stuff I brought with me, I shall make a comfortable, if Spartan, existence. I’ve gotten what I on some level have always asked for, besides a place in the sun, a place with few distractions from being able to strip myself down to an essential core, to find out who I is beneath all the frantic, frenetic scrambling of business in mind, heart and spirit. I can watch for hours, if necessary, the eagles and crows soar over the palm trees and river, Hare Krishna-ing, reading, writing – maybe I will write a play or two, some short stories, even a novel, certainly these scratchings from my more or less mindful experience.

Though I’ve had some down moments, just non-judgmentally letting the feelings be of missing Sara and the rich life we had on Long Island, as well as deeply missing Bonnie and the potential we might have of evolving a deep, spiritually-centered life of travel and service together, or St. Joe, or Xavier or Woodland Lake and the ltbrinmobile or whatever, most of the time I’ve allowed myself to be the watcher surrounded by grace, witnessing the passing scene of my life with compassion and forgiveness, if not felt, then easily intended through the bitter sweetness of it all. And there have been some blatant gifts of grace, such as getting still enough to be led to go right to where I had misplaced my keys in the toiletry bag of the second big bag I packed. As always, It and I am happening exactly as It and I should for highest good. And so it is . . .

Michael Jones’s Magical Child is playing and with my blackberry tea and sweet cinnamon stick and the soothing wash of surf from silvery Dutch Bay in the background, I just choose with deep gratitude to honor the poignant memory of those glorious times at twilight when I would go round and round and round the pool in the backyard of 13 First Street in Islip, relishing the fullness of my life and the mystery of the gifts I’ve been blessed to experience. Those were magical, childlike times then; they are magical childlike times now in tender memory -- I bless the gift they were; I cherish the memory of what now is gone; I honor the grace that I am exceedingly blessed to have always experienced, as I look forward in anticipation to other multitudinous gifts of relationship and connected being in the light . . .

And so it is, indeed, just so . . .

Unfortunately, here is today’s journal entry, not nearly as hopeful or enthusiastic, on the other dark side of the coin, so to type, just another lesson in acceptance, in letting go, in choosing to survive despite the suffering that sometimes life on this illusory plane just is:

7:48 p.m., Saturday, February 14, 2004
Mutur Bedroom

First entry in new Mutur home, and a sad one it is, as I just let myself sink into the moaning, flowing tears of one other fucking loss on the large pile of so, so fucking many losses during the past fucking three years, and on Valentine’s Day, too. Oh, sweet Jesus/Buddha/Allah/Krishna, especially Kuan Yin, Blessed Compassionate Bodhisattva, help me just be with this awful pain, this incredible sadness, this horror of fighting the ever so deeply rooted belief, experienced so desperately again, that everything I touch turns to shit, or death, or crappola. So, I get it that I’m not to have a pet either, after giving up Chutney, after Milo’s strong little spirit didn’t survive, and now after having an hour ago killed Thor-boy, tightly squeezing in such sweat-dripping, finger-cramping horror his thin little windpipe until slowly with a minimum of struggle, one last release of bowels in final death throes, he gave up his strong, suffering little spirit. Yes, I understand that he has been in such agony with virulent rabies for the past couple of days, with increased howling and pacing and agitation, in almost constant epileptic trembling, aggressively attacking Soraia and me and the broom and anything that moved, unable to find any comfort, any solace, any relief. Yes, I was actually relieved when Soraia made the awful decision, asking me in tears to please kill it, because he wasn’t a him anymore; he was an it terribly suffering, no spirit of gentle, playful puppy, just a mini-monster of terror and unutterable ache . And. Yes. I would so graciously hope that some being would likewise act so mercifully and compassionately with me, if I were suffering so horribly as he was. Nevertheless, it hurts, it just deeply and unremittingly hurts, and there is nothing I can do but be with it, and watch it and pray about it, and just let it be. Just one more acceptance that it all comes to pass, not to stay, not any of it, not anything, not any being . . .

Here he is as he was but is no more except in these two meager semblances of mere pixels and in the memory of those who were graced to know his strong, vibrant spirit:

And so it is – Thor-boy puppy is dead. Long live Thor-boy puppy . . .

Tomorrow, after Soraia and I get back from getting our first rabies inoculation, I will put up some pictures, the last ones I took in Trinco last week, and the first ones showing our new home in Mutur . . .

Thank you, treasured friends far, near and in between, known dearly or not, for your light-filled prayer thoughts for the progenitor of this blog-space . . .

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