It has been said that bomb craters in post-American-War Vietnam were not always filled in by gathering earth from outside the craters, but by the painstaking work of loosening up the densely compacted soil from within the crater itself, basket by basket. Heard years ago, this story has been a light for my path.
I attended my first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in 1997, at Omega Institute in upstate New York, in a veterans group gathered in a little building called Cabin by the Field––a safe haven apart from the several hundred general retreatants. In tears and joy, our group was gently supported by Lyn Fine and Roberta Wall, and for the first time since my combat experiences in Vietnam, I sat and shared with several Vietnamese monastics, including Sister Chan Khong––veterans of our same war. Their sharing offered first-time glimpses of interbeing and deep listening. Doors to my heart were opened to understand my own suffering as only a part of the suffering of many. For the first time, I felt the courage within me to share openly with soldiers, spouses, children, and protesters suffering from the American War in Vietnam. Now, some seventeen years after our wonderful new beginning together, my volition continues to transform my suffering enough––basket by basket––in order to try to help others who suffer the wounds of war.
Thay heartens veterans to understand that we are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. He encourages us to achieve awareness, transformation, understanding, and peace, to be able to break our silent suffering and share with all of society the roots and the legacies of war. May veterans, youth, parents, educators, and governments join in breaking this long silence of wars and lend voice to our prayerful chant, “May there be no place at war.”
Ron Landsel, True West Garden, served in Vietnam in 1968-69 as a radio operator with 1st Marine Reconnaissance Battalion. He lives and practices in Oceanside, California, with his wife, Margaret, and the sisters and brothers of the Rising Tide Sangha.