|A woman in Vietnam, begins her day, with prayers at her family alter.|
A midwife, I talk with in Cambodia, tells me that she was called to be a midwife in a dream. This dream was so powerfully given to her to call her from her bed to serve the women and children of her village for decades.
When a person is called to be a midwife, they are called to walk in that place between life and death; the place of first breathes, first heartbeats and the movement of a new life beneath their hands. They agree to the fragile miracle of life and the universe’s ability to create and sustain new life. They also must accept the inevitability of death and the possibility that it will come to soon and unfairly.
Every midwife has known death as well as birth. In my community, babies I have caught into my hands, have killed themselves, died prematurely, died in car accidents and were born with serious health problems. I know mothers, wonderful mothers, in my community, who left grieving families when cancer came too soon. As midwives, we stand in this circle of life and death; feeling the joys and sorrows fill us until we have no choice to walk there amongst the ancient trees and ask for answers to our prayers. In my village and in all villages, this is the way of the midwife. We read and take classes and try everything possible to prevent these moments but they come; they always come.
Each death comes with such grief. We study this now and know there are stages and that we too will pass through them. We know, even if we cannot feel it at the time that the raw grief will turn to anger and blame and then sorrow and peace.
How then do nations who have lost millions of their young to war, famine and disease morn their dead and move into a place of peace, healing and reconciliation.
My daughter’s eight-year-old brother was executed, under Phal Pot, for stealing food. He was shot with a bow and arrow. In my village, a young girl was killed by her stepfather while trying to defend her mother from domestic violence. This beautiful mother died along with her daughter. I was her midwife. I am forced to accept this grief. I want to run. I want to say I can not love that much again but I will. I am a midwife and in this I agree to walk in this space of first and last breaths.
I also commit myself to doing what I can to make this world a clean, healthy place to live in; a safe place free of harm. It is the way of the midwife who is called from her sleep in Cambodia, Vietnam, and my villages too.
How then do we heal? How do we walk back into the world and make it whole again. If it is so hard for us, how can a whole nation, a whole society heal and right itself once again. How do countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, fill in the bomb craters, replant fields and pick up the bombs left lying on the ground. How do they forgive their neighbor who may have fought against them? How do they forgive and feel peace and move on despite the loss of no tone mother or child but millions?
Karl Marx was famous for saying that religion was the opiate of the people. He scorned family life and dreamt of turning small family farms into large, commercial enterprises. For decades after the wars in SE Asia, their governments struggled under these words and this advice; trying to figure out how to make a better society.
By the time I came to visit Vietnam and Cambodia religion and family were once again central to society.
My Cambodian children, when the Khmer Rogue were defeated by the Vietnamese, made their way out of captivity to find their families. They would walk miles through jungles covered with land mines but they would, in time gather in Cambodia, in refugee camps and in host counties. They would count the living and the dead and slowly, slowly begin to rebuild their lives and their country. They would, in many cases, adopt and be adopted by a new country while mourning the one they lost.
In Vietnam and Cambodia, the temples and pagodas, once closed were slowly opened again as monks once again became a part of the daily landscape of daily life.
Schools were re opened and families gathered, as they always shad done, to honor those who had died at altars and large, happy celebrations. The things that were vital, before the war, faith, tradition and family would be the things that healed.
There is this moment, in profound grief, in which are hearts are opened wide and we stand on the doorstep of great healing. At that moment we can turn this personal or collective grief into a place of forgiveness and wholeness. We can decide to use that very grief to help and heal others or we can use that grief as fuel for anger, resentment and revenge. We can keep our hearts open or we can close it tight so it can never break again. We can say, we will never treat others as we were treated or we can look for another person or another group to hurt in the belief that this will somehow relief our own suffering.
I met a man, who left Vietnam, with his family in a fishing boat. He worked as a school janitor in the United States for many years. He has returned to Vietnam ad has donated his family land to build a community hospital. His best childhood friends help him with this project.
There are people who drug themselves, in the post war chaos, with all sorts of moneymaking schemes that exploit the poor and the environment. Although Buddha, himself was born with great wealth, he taught that greed was the source of all suffering? Although the roots of war are always in greed, they still hold onto the belief that being rich and of a perceived upper class will prevent further suffering for their family. Phal Pot believed that a great country had to have a common enemy in order to be strong. Their suffering closes their hearts as they unite against still another common enemy.
Ho Chi Minh, like Abraham Lincoln called for post war forgiveness and reconciliation. Neither man would live long enough to see these policies through but somehow in the confusion it would be remembered.
Most people, who remember the war and the Khmer Rogue are growing old. The younger generation cannot really hear their stories. They want an education, opportunity, and jobs. They want to meet new people, have a good life and build a great country for themselves and their children.
The old people, who are still with them, teach tradition, respect and kindness by example. They care for the temples and small children and, honor their ancestors. They live close to the land; to the rice paddies and lotus flowers and the rain.
I sit, with the women in Vietnam, the ones who are my age and watch night spread out over the city or countryside. They reach over and hold my hand and I try to breathe in what it means to forgive, to rest and to rebuild.