As I checked my Facebook feed this morning I was reminded of a post that I made exactly three years ago today. This post was written as I sat waiting for my flight from Bangkok, Thailand on my first trip to Vietnam. Vietnam was a place that stirred tremendous emotion and pain for many Americans some five decades earlier and I found myself reliving some of those feelings. This morning, reviewing what I wrote three years ago, I wept.
As an educator, I am often asked why I choose to promote the idea of global education. Why I choose to fly many thousands of miles and spend over half of my nights per year sleeping in hotels. The overly simplistic, yet truthful answer that I give most often is that “it is hard to bomb your friends.” This answer obviously requires more explanation, yet even when explained it can still sound overly simplistic or incredibly naïve. Yet, I believe that by helping to introduce schools and students from around the world to each other, I facilitate the development of friendships and collaborations among children from different cultures and nationalities. Moreover, I believe these friendships will give us a better chance for a future devoid of war.
My experiences suggest that when we get to know others from different cultures, we learn empathy. Empathy allows us to see the world through another person’s perspective and, most of the time, it helps us to understand why they view the world somewhat differently. Yet in my exposure to people from other cultures, I have learned that we all share similar concerns and passions.
I have observed that one of the best places to see our sameness is during playtime at an elementary school. I have been privileged to see this in many countries around the world. In every instance, I close my eyes and it is impossible to distinguish the sound from any other school yard in the world. The laughter of play sounds the same in any language.
Schools make a difference and education is an answer. I am more convinced than ever that when students are introduced to the global community, the prospects of a brighter tomorrow exists for our world. Some have told me that this is merely a pipe dream, nevertheless, in my calculation there exists little choice but to give my life to such a dream. As I see it, the alternative is to continue down a road where otherness is feared and demonized, and I am certain that down this path awaits more war, death, and family members who will weep. Just as surely as it is hard to bomb one’s friends, it has become quite easy to bomb those who make up the other.
May God help us see the whole of humanity as our neighbors so that we also may be friends.
Copy of my Facebook post on November 4, 2013
As I waited at the gate in Bangkok, Thailand to board my flight to Hanoi, Vietnam, I was overcome with emotion. I could never have imagined that my life would be as blessed as it has been. I have had the opportunity to see the world and know wonderful people from many nations, cultures, and backgrounds. However, this trip had a different sense of meaning for me.
This was my first trip to Vietnam, a place that a mere 45 years ago evoked such emotion for my family, as it did for thousands of other families whose loved ones were “doing their time” as young men called on to serve our country. My memory took me back to a Sunday morning church service where I stood next to my dad as we sang ‘God Bless Our Boys.” On each and every Sunday morning, my dad would weep. A not so common sight for such a towering and tough man, apart from this weekly ritual. I would also weep as did many others in the congregation.
Through the years I have often felt a sense of guilt for not serving in the military, although I know this is an unfounded guilt given that the military draft was stopped two years before my high school graduation and there were no real military conflicts or necessities when I was of age. Nonetheless, I have lived with guilt. A guilt that just might lessen if I am able to make a difference now. This is certainly not a given, however, this is my prayer that somehow I will be able to bring the world a bit closer together through the power of my efforts in education.
My big brother Darrell served in Vietnam in the last 1960s, as did several of my cousins and family friends. Darrell, as my big brother you have always been my hero. I imagined today your first flight into Vietnam. Indeed it was the thought of you that caused me to weep along with dad all those many years ago. It is also the memory of you that brings tears to my eyes today. However, in spite of the emotional and physical tolls that were visited on your life due to the one brief year in ‘Nam,’ I remain optimistic that your time was not in vain.
Darrell, I have today seen the face of those who may have served alongside you or even across the enemy lines. I played peek-a-boo with a precious young Vietnamese girl who is no doubt the grandchild of one who also was engaged in the conflict. If there is any consolation to be had, it is that today Vietnam is beginning to prosper and more of its people feel optimistic about the future. Although it has not fully turned the corner, it has over the past forty-years learned to celebrate again its beauty as a country and it celebrates opportunity for its youth. As I am drawn into this introspective time, I just hope and pray that this might provide some comfort for you and all others who sacrificed. You need to come back someday.