Hand Outstretched

(Sins of War)

I am in a tight room
studying a foreign language
in a foreign land
my fellow students are Vietnamese
all of us struggling against the unfamiliar
one American in a class of Vietnamese
sitting at small tables on opposite sides
of the room, eyeing each other with tentative smiles.
One of the Vietnamese approaches me.
a stocky man with a military haircut
and a hard mouth, a mouth that is sort
of smiling. I am uneasy as he nears.
He speaks in a halting English
the words struggling in his larynx
willed to emerge
the words misshapen, their sense clear.
He asks to shake my hand
he has no hate for me, he tells me
he lost 4 brothers in the war
4 brothers fighting America
he has no hate for me
and he wants to shake my hand.
I shake his hand
but do not tell him
I did not fight in that war
that I opposed that war
that I avoided that war.
Our common language cannot express so much.
What is relevant in that small room
are two strangers reaching across a divide
this Vietnamese man
who had suffered in the war
suffered fighting against America
bears me—an American, a former enemy—no hatred
and wants to shake my hand.
I take his hand with humility
and gratitude that I am not damned
with the sins of war
(though I believe that I am)

 

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Copyright 2017© by Peter D. Goodwin