Hue, May 2003.
My wife and I are in the market. I buy a package of incense sticks. My wife asks why I bought them to take home. I tell her that they are not for home. They are for here! She now understands and becomes quiet.
I am an old man now. Much time has past and the war is far behind me now. On each of my trips I have stopped at a pagoda. Today will be different. We are walking over to the Forbidden City where the rulers of Vietnam once lived. I thought my wife would like to see it.
After looking around at what remains of the old buildings we walk straight ahead. Here are the footings of buildings destroyed in the war. Behind them is tall grass and the remains of a wall. This is where we want to go. I know what I am looking for.
A miniature pagoda on a cement pole about three feet high. You see them around vietnamese houses. A place to pray to Buddha.
I light my incense sticks and hold them between my hands over my head. My eyes are closed and I think of all who died in war in Vietnam. Vietnamese, Chinese, French, American, African and so many more. I know that their spirits remember the horrors of war. But I hope that they are here with me today. I hope that they have seen the Vietnam of today. A country at peace. A place of young people, moving into a future of a better life for the Vietnamese people. I think that they would be very pleased with this country today and I hope that they feel the joy that I do.
I bow three times and place the sticks in an urn inside the little pagoda and we walk away.
My wife knows that this is a deeply personal thing that I do. This is the first time that I have put it in writing..........