It’s all one world
My bus pulled up for a WC break on the way to Phuong Nha, Vietnam. A man drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany. Thousands of miles apart, but it’s all one world. And lately it feels like it’s all going to shit.
But it’s not. And Vietnam has reminded me of that.
When my demographic thinks “Vietnam” we think of pho (soup), Vietnamese friends, stories heard or told of travel’s beauty here. And probably those movies about someone else’s war. I arrived knowing little about it beyond what Oliver Stone told me and it’s entirely possible I could have left without learning much more.
The possibility is both troubling and beautiful. Troubling, because visitors, especially Americans, should know about what happened here during the twenty morally reprehensible years of war my country inflicted on this region in order to take away their freedom and advance our economic interests.
But beautiful because of the way the people here have talked to me about the war. 40 years is long enough to fade from America’s awareness but not to erase the memories from those who saw it firsthand. Trauma like that stays with an individual and a society, whether you fought or not, your village burned or not, your family died or not.
Yet when my bus pulled in for that bathroom break and I got to chatting with the driver in words and gestures, he communicated the same thing I’ve heard again and again in this wonderful country (if I bring it up).
“You say ‘I from America’ and” he made that relaxed shoulder shrug gesture of peacefulness. “No problem! America, Vietnam, friend friend! War is over. Friend friend!” He wanted me to know that even if his father was in the war, even if we were about to drive over Hien Luong Bridge that divided North and South, even if these towns watched their children die and the very land burned bare by toxins dropped without conscience, that’s in the past, and he holds no grudge. Feels no separation between us. And that’s what I’m holding on to today.
Because there are people trying to pull us apart. They are small in number and vast in influence. They want this religion to blame that religion. This nationality to hate that nationality. These people at peace to distrust those people fleeing war. Our division is their gain. Our fear is their advantage. And our misplaced antipathy is our own destruction.
Because Berlin is Phuong Nha is Damascus is San Francisco. It’s all one world. We’re all one people. And if my Vietnamese bus driver, whose father was killed by a US bomb, can pat me on the shoulder and share his food then we are brothers, no matter what came before. And my German friends, regardless of what faced our grandparents, are all family on this sad day. As are my Syrian friends, grieving kin as bombs murder the entire city of Aleppo, feeling our anger but united in hope for a better future for us all.
So yes, lately it feels like it’s all going to shit. And in some ways damn right it is. But then again, maybe it always feels like it’s going that way, every year’s “lately.” But the fact I cling to, the firsthand observation I trust, is that even if some other guy drove a truck into a market today, my guy drove our bus to a moment of friendship. And the latter is more common by far. The latter is the majority, the hope, and the future.
Yes it’s all one world. And no it’s not all going to shit.