Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Ancestors’

Le Ly Hayslip

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. Conversations with Gabriel Constans.

LE LY HAYSLIP

As a child she knew only war. She was threatened with execution and raped by the Viet Cong; imprisoned and tortured by the South Vietnamese; starved near death; forced into the black market to survive; and lived with the grief of losing brothers, father, cousins, neighbors, friends and relatives to the violence that ripped her country apart for decades. Le Ly lived through hell on earth and chose to heal the wounds, work for peace, and with the help of her ancestors, rebuild the land that gave her birth.

Le Ly was the first voice in the West to speak about Vietnam from the eyes of the Vietnamese. Her book, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places gave the people of Vietnam a human face. The adapted movie by Oliver Stone increased awareness of what the war had done to individuals and families in Vietnam and was the beginning of an outpouring of humanitarian work for reconciliation and rebuilding between the two countries. In 1989 Le Ly began The East Meets West Foundation which started programs for displaced children; primary health care for over 150,000 patients; Mother’s Love Clinic, with over 1,000 babies delivered; construction of eight schools in remote districts; built over thirty-eight homes and income-generating projects for families; thirty renovated or new built wells; scholarships for educating children and orphans and; a loan program that’s provided for over one hundred and eighty five needy families.

LE LY: The East West Foundation started in 1987, with one hundred dollars, after I saw the poor people in Vietnam. I could not turn my back and walk away from what I saw. If I did not see it at all it would be different, but after you have been there you see and you feel touched. You can’t lie to yourself and say, “I am not going to do anything.” “Doing something” is not just talking but rolling up your sleeves and working.

When I came back from Vietnam in 1986 I lost my sense of having everything. I just had it with the living style. I owned a restaurant, I had a couple of houses rented out, three children . . . but I got really burned out, so I started to let go. I sold the restaurant and houses and moved into a small home.

I’m not working for anyone, just doing the thing I really wanted to do, to write and tell the story. While I’m doing that everything is coming back to me. The more I’m writing the story the more I’m saying to myself, “How could I not help? I was there, I was one of them!” I am lucky enough to get out and then I went back and they are still there, with things worse then it had been. That is when I really committed myself to do what I can. At that time I didn’t know if the book was going to work but if it did well I committed to myself to have all that money go back to where it is coming from. Without the war in Vietnam, without my life crises, I can’t tell the story, right?

So I make that my commitment and I not only sell the house and sell the restaurant and put the time into working on the book, but I work seven days a week and twenty-four hours on the foundation, then eventually my income from my bank to the foundation account so it can do its work. I know who I am. I know what I stand for and I know the principle of what I’m doing.

I recently returned to Vietnam and stayed for almost four months. I saw all the old villages that were leveled by Americans, including my own. I saw the foundation of the house, temple and my school and around it the bamboo and banana trees. The foundation is what they lost. The tree is still growing. The bamboo and the banana tree has sprouted again. The soul of the ancestors is all that remains of foundation and the bomb crater next to the graveyard. I walked through that ghost town with my cousin and he pointed out to me, “Do you remember? Remember who lived here? Remember Uncle so and so lived there? Remember Auntie’s house? Remember the big tree here we use to play on?” You know I’m looking around I feel ghosts. I feel chill in my bones. I’ve been back to Vietnam thirty-six times but never saw these places until then.

I dealt with the refugees from those villages. I helped them with what I can, but after a time I said, “Leave it there.” I went back and saw that they are refugees because they moved lower land people to higher desert land. This land happened to be in my village. They can’t grow anything there. It is sand beach. They cannot survive there. The last thirty years they cannot call it home. They can’t move back because there is land mines and even if there weren’t they having nothing to build with. They fought so hard against the French to save the house, the temple and the ancestor worship places.

That is when I feel my pain. For many years I feel the pain. When I wrote the book I feel the pain of what the war had done to these people. When I work with them and help them, I feel the pain of the poor, the needy, the suffering they have gone through. Now it is a different pain, a different loss. We have fire here in U.S. every now and then. People describe their pain, people feel their losses, and people act or describe the hurt. Vietnamese lost not only one or two houses to fire, we lost the whole village! The places we lived for thousands of years!

Heaven and Earth was the first voice that ever came from the Vietnamese side. Americans wrote about what they did, felt or believed in, but not about Vietnamese. I wanted to describe from Vietnamese experience, how we get from here to there – to be prostitute, refugee, Viet Cong or whatever. I was a young kid, what did I know. So that is the book as a first voice, then the movie and then it was a big impact. It did not do as well as we hoped it would, probably because it was about Vietnam, was from the “other side” and a woman’s story.

I keep going with much help. I’m never alone. I cannot live without spirits. That means knowing that whatever I do, whatever breath I take, whatever words I say . . . they know about it. The spirits have no boundaries. They are like wind. I communicate with my ancestors very clearly. It’s as real as when I talk to you. I have no problem with that. Wherever I live, or work I have to have them with me. Whether you believe it or not is up to you.

They do not control things. I cannot ask you to protect me if I walk out the door and I know somebody is going to kill me. I can’t ask you to protect me because you don’t have any army with you, you don’t have any power. But if I make a call to police they can help me. It is the same with the spirits. I cannot ask my brother or my father to help me when they are just like us, but I can ask my great, great ancestor who was a king, who was an emperor, to protect me. There are good and evil just like there is here, so it depends on how good I do on this plane. If I do all the good work, the high scale side will protect me. You can call it angels or whatever. My thought has to be clear. It has to be peaceful and it has to be clean for them to guide me.

Everybody has choices. The choice they make will help with their energy if they make the right choice. Right now I’m writing about the villages that I visit and all the ghost stories I have been told by the people I’ve been talking to. I feel moved. I feel hurt. I feel pain. At the same time, I feel good because I speak for them. I speak for those who are voiceless. That is helping me and that is when I knew that they are with me. I have to “keep the channel open” and that is what it’s all about, to really keep the flow going through. If I was a hateful person with much anger and condemned the whole world, there also is an entity like that. There are two forces, Yin and Yang. If you have negative flow you have negative flow. It’s like the banking system. If you have positive flow, everything goes smoothly.

People with black, yellow, red, brown, or white skin all have our ancestors. Our ancestors come in all forms. You can call it God, you can call it angel, you can call it whatever. They are there. But we have to take a look at our life here to understand there.

In his death my father taught me how to live. He knew that if he kept living it would draw me back to the village. And with the note they found in his hand we discovered he was going to be killed anyway. One way or another he would die. But the question was where . . . how long? He died so I could be free and wouldn’t go back to the village, so I could go on with my life. But if I am not intuitive enough I may not find the way on the path he provided. I have to walk it carefully.

Every one of us makes that choice. It depends on what we make out of it. Living with the ancestors I have no problems. Living with the real world I have the problems. I know the rules. I know what law I need to obey, spiritual law. That is all I need to know. From Uncle Sam to Uncle Ho, there are many obligations. It is hard. But nothing is impossible.

Many people write about their life, their hatred and their anger. All that does is make some people feel like them so they can put on the uniform, the gun and fight. They start it all over again. That is what I would call negative energy. Every time you think of doing something, energy goes out like a chain link fence, it hooks together. That energy multiplies, bigger and bigger. The other world also has a negative energy that hooks into your negative energy and makes a person down here do things which are harmful. It’s like when you turn on a radio in your house or car and you are looking for these waves. When you tap in with that station they have their own frequency. That is what comes to you the listener, whatever you choose. I would rather tune in to the positive. I like the light that is in me and that energy out there is the same light.

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Our Ancestor’s Children

Not that long ago, I used to think people that were grandparents were very very old. Now, that I am one, I don’t see my self as an “older” person, let alone as ancient as I once thought such generations to be.

Our oldest daughter and her wife had their daughter Ilee (our granddaughter) just over a week ago and she is amazing and beautiful. Our other daughter and her husband, had their wonderful and bright son (our grandson), just about 2 years ago and they are coming to visit us for a week.

It all seems so natural, being a grandparent and being called GaPa or Opa, Grandma or Omi. It’s as if this was always meant to be and the lines of humanity continues. Of course, it’s happening all the time and we are one continuous thread since the beginning of life on this planet, but it seems even more real when it is happening so close to home.

We truly walk on the back of our ancestors or they are at our side (depending on how you relate to them) in everything we think, do or say. The energy from the past travels into the present and the energy we react with and live with now undoubtedly spreads into and shapes the future. The awareness of this reality calls me to be conscious and make wise choices. It calls us all up to take responsibility for ourselves, our communities and our planet.

This is not a matter of doing good or being a “good” person in order to fulfill some imagined self-image of who or what we “think” we should be; it is a matter of physics, action/reaction, science and self-sustaining necessity. The adage that “There is only one of us here” has never been more blatantly apparent and reflected within our world. I pray that I (we) do not turn away and anesthetize ourselves with illusion, suffering and self-imposed forgetfulness.

Even though our species has thrived for thousands of years, many others are now extinct. There is no guarantee that ours will continue. We cannot promise our children or our children’s children that they will continue to carry on their ancestor’s lives and spirits. As long as there is breath, there is hope. I hope I live to see great great grandchildren and continue to have the capacity to love and be loved. More importantly, I hope all forms of life on this planet traveling through space has the opportunity to do likewise.

Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 3

Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 3 (Conclusion)

Whether it had been divine providence, coincidence or random luck, I’ll never know; but my faith in Buddha and the precepts were instantly restored. I attended the temple weekly and diligently started reciting my sutras. I even entertained the idea of becoming a nun, until a wonderfully romantic dream convinced me I’d never make it as a recluse.

Reverend Tsukiyama brought the application later that week, as well as some phone numbers of other families who had daughters in the program. Haha knew one or two and called them that evening. I walked into the kitchen as she was finishing her last call.
She hung up solemnly and said we’d talk about it in the morning.

“OK,” I replied, acting as if it didn’t concern me in the least. “I think I’ll call it a day. Goodnight Haha.”

I figured the sooner I went to bed, the earlier the sun would rise. I brushed my teeth, put on my nightclothes and snuggled in for the hopefully brief darkness, but the night crawled by like a sleepwalking sloth.

Sleep deprived and blurry eyed, I was waiting anxiously at the breakfast table when Haha, Chichi and Soba (grandmother) straggled into the kitchen.

“Well?” I exclaimed, almost lifting off my seat.

“Well what?” Haha replied.

“You know what!”

“Oh, that,” she said.

They sat and stared down at the table. Haha was the first to break. She glanced my way with a brilliant grin.

“I can! I can!” I jumped up and down and kissed them all. “You won’t be sorry! I’ll make you proud! Thank you. Thank you. I love you all!” I bowed so many times I thought I’d surely broken my back!

Chichi turned away and went outside without saying a word.

Haha and Soba were crying. “I’ll be all right. Don’t cry,” I said.

Chichi left for work without speaking to me.

That night Haha followed me to bed and sat on the side as I got under the covers.

“I’m sorry Hon, I didn’t mean to bring a cloud on your head.”

“What do you mean?”

“We weren’t crying because we were sad. Well, we are sad to see you go, but it’s more than that.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” I cautioned, feeling a bit uneasy.

She continued as if she hadn’t heard me. “Soba and I are happier for you than you’ll ever know. We’re so proud of you.” She smiled and started crying again.

“Haha.” I put my arms around her. “What’s wrong?”

She wiped her wet cheek on the sleeve of her silk kimono; the one Soba had given her back in the fifties. “Nothing’s wrong,” she sighed. “Everything’s right. You’re doing something Soba and I never had the chance to do.” Her eyes watered again. “I think we’re feeling a little sorry for ourselves. I didn’t want to be a nurse, but I did want to write and play music.” She paused, gently caressing the blanket with her callused fingers. “Who knows, I might have been pretty good at it too.”

“What stopped you?”

“It just wasn’t something women were ‘supposed to do’. Our duty was to home and family, but I can’t blame it all on that.” She looked away. “I was scared. I’d never lived apart from my family. I knew what to do at home. I’d seen it done all my life. It was safe. I did what was expected.”

I started feeling guilty. “If only we hadn’t come along,” I thought.

Seeming to have read my mind she quickly added, “It’s not your fault! I couldn’t imagine life without you. When you’re a mother you’ll know how much I love you. No, I don’t regret having children.” She smiled and shook her head. “It’s hard sometimes and tiring as hell . . .”

“Haha!” I exclaimed. I’d never heard her swear before.

“There’s something special about each and every one of you.” She stopped, as if she’d just realized something profound. “I wish I wasn’t such a scared-y-cat.”

“Well?” I asked.

“Well what?”

“Why don’t you do something about it?”

She blushed. “It’s too late for that.”

“Too late?!” I exclaimed. “Remember that poem you wrote a couple years ago about the farm?” She nodded bashfully. “It was great! Everyone said so. Why don’t you start writing again?”

“I wish there was time, between chores and kids I barely get any sleep as is,” she said justifiably.

“Make time,” I insisted. “Basho and Yutaka are old enough to help out. You could practice your music too.”

“You’re so sweet.” She gave me a big hug. “I’ll think about it.”

“I love you Haha.”

“And I you.” Our necks were damp with tears. “I miss you already,” she cried.

I sat back smiling. “I’m only going to be two hours away.”

“I know.” She laughed.

“Chichi acts like I stuck a knife in his back,” I said sadly, looking at the floor. “It’s not like I’m going to Europe or something.”

Haha brushed the hair from my forehead. “He’ll come around. You are like the rising sun to him. He can’t imagine not having you here.”

“You don’t understand,” I said, feeling my cheeks getting wet once again. “He had me promise . . . I promised that I’d never leave Hamatombetsu.” I hid my shame behind my hands.

“Yuki,” Haha whispered. “Yuki. Look at me.”

I looked through blurry eyes.

“He never told me about that and you know why?” Haha asked. I shook my head. “Because he knows it was a foolish thing to ask a little girl to promise. How old were you . . . nine, ten?”

I stopped crying. “I was nine. It was on our way back from visiting Shogi in Sapporo.”

Haha shook her head. “He had no right to have you make such a promise.” Haha looked out the window. “He knows you can’t hold on to joy or try to put it in a chicken pen. You have to find your own way Musume, with your own heart.” She held my hand. “I’ll speak with him. He only wants your happiness.”

In less than a month I was informed of my acceptance, but it wasn’t until my crying Chichi and I got in his old beat up truck, waved goodbye and drove down the familiar, pot-marked dirt road, that it seemed real.

Haha had been right. Chichi came back to me the morning after they’d given me their blessing to go. He told me they would visit as often as they could. He helped me pack, gave me what little money they had and said he’d always be my “Number one fan.”

I wondered if my prayers had helped push my wish to the top of the karmic pile or the Bodhisattva’s had just taken a nap and knocked it off by accident. Then again, perhaps Sapporo wasn’t the land of honey and happiness after all. I looked back at my shrinking family and sobbing friend Kiri, who were waving in the distance. Through my bittersweet tears I realized that my ashita had become imadoki (today).

THE END

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Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 2

Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 2

Now I was being pulled, like an obsessive magnet, towards Sapporo’s alluring illusion of happiness. I was infected with a virulent virus known as TRISSES (The Rice Is Sweeter Somewhere Else Syndrome).
I wasn’t sure how to make my break – work, elope, runaway or hijack a bus? My teenage desire contradicted all financial logic. Our family had no savings account, wealthy relatives or hidden cash to save me from the purgatory in which I wallowed. My parents had no inkling of my nightly anguish and I wasn’t about to let them in on the secret. If they discovered my desire to go to Sapporo, their fears about “that depraved city of immorality” would descend upon me like a swarm of locusts. I had never forgotten the promise I’d made my father and neither had he.

When times were tough, I’d always been harangued into attending the local temple and praying for understanding and humility. After awhile I discovered that the prayers and priests divination’s often coincided with the will of my parents, teachers, and other illustrious icons of the community, but I figured I might as well give it one last try.

On a sunny Saturday in July, I decided to attend temple on a personal quest. I was turning eighteen in two weeks and could see the tiny grains of sand falling through the hourglass at the speed of light.
I wasn’t the kind of girl to stay home and play house or get married. Having grown up with six younger siblings, I was certain I’d rather be tortured and hanged then ever marry and have children! I didn’t mind if other women want to live that life, but it wasn’t my cup of tea or so I thought at the time.

I entertained the thought, rather briefly, about being a teacher. There were a few teachers I admired, respected and even fell in love with. Mr. Sato was my favorite. He had the nicest smile and always complimented my papers. Simple comments like, “Nice work.” would send Kiri and I into spasms of joy and late night talks about how one of us would make Mr. Sato our boyfriend. The fact that he was married, with children and twenty years our senior, seemed irrelevant at the time. Why should that matter when he was “so nice and cute”?
With somewhat more mature reflection, I doubted I could stand in front of thirty pairs of beady little eyes to impart any semblance of knowledge or words of wisdom. I’d surely wilt on the spot from fright.

Then the thought of working as a nurse embedded its tentacles in my skimming mind. That was something I knew absolutely nothing about. What could be so hard about that, I reasoned, handing doctors instruments, putting on bandages and saving people’s lives? I didn’t know about the ugly stuff, the pictures you don’t see on television – people throwing up on your newly washed uniform; exhausted interns screaming obscenities at your “incompetence”; wiping the bottom of a smelly old drunk dying from liver disease.

Haha (Mother) couldn’t believe how anxious I was to go to temple that day. “What’s gotten into you? I’ve never seen you so fired up.”

“Nothing special, I just want to recite sutras and pray for Buddha’s compassion.”

She looked me up and down, smiling with a look that said, “Yeah, sure.”

We arrived ten minutes early, dressed in our finest attire. I didn’t even mind wearing the totally embarrassing dress Haha had made for me to wear on special occasions. She had hand-stitched it from some strange fabric my aunt had given her. She gave it to me on my sixteenth birthday. You could see the pride she had felt when she handed me the package and bowed. Internally I had moaned. “I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that old-fashioned fake-flower monstrosity!” But all she heard was my dutiful reply, “Thank you Haha. It’s beautiful.”

I rushed inside and sat on the mat. The rest of my bewildered family soon caught up and joined me, looking around nervously, ill at ease to be sitting so close to the altars.

Reverend Tsukiyama recited his ancient incantations, the followers paraded there off key voices with theatrical vengeance and everyone responded with stifled coughs and yawns. Silently, I plunged the depths of my imagination and begged the Ancestors and Buddha’s to reward me for all my good karma. “Please, please!” I begged. “Take me away from these endless fields of wheat, barley and chickens and deliver me to the Pure Land – Sapporo!”

“Get up child,” Haha whispered. “Service is over.”

The priests were shuffling down the corridor towards the hall entrance.

“Over?” I said in shock. “It can’t be! Nothing happened!”

“What are you talking about?” She felt my head. “You feeling OK Musume (daughter)?”

“I’m fine,” I mumbled, as we formally bowed and headed out. Haha kept eyeing me like a suspicious inspector.

What went wrong? I’d done everything! I helped take care of my brothers and sisters, seldom argued with my parents and never even thought about sex or drugs – well, not about taking drugs anyway. I said my nightly prayers and didn’t even hit Sashi Mutsui when she called me a “stupid little pig”.

I was a good girl. Why was I being singled out for punishment? Who were these dead priests and Bodhisattvas anyway . . . the farmers of suffering . . . the divine bean keepers? “This one’s good. That one’s bad. You deserve pleasure. You deserve pain. And you, Yuki, you have to live in Hamatombetsu until you shrivel up and die!”

I swore I’d never set foot on temple grounds again. “You call this a temple?” I admonished, looking at the empty space between the high, engraved ceiling and polished floor. “If I’m going to be stuck here the rest of my life, I might as well jump into the funeral pyre now and let my ashes blow away with the wind!”

As we reached the entrance, Reverend Tsukiyama motioned our family aside. The Reverend was somewhat of a village icon. In his forty years of service he had initiated, married and/or buried almost everyone in town. He’d known me since I was a wailing little bundle of flesh. He was a creaky, robust, silver-haired representative of communal devotion and tradition. Seeing his face reminded me of the day he caught Kiri and I orange-handed, sort of speak, on these very grounds.

We had snuck into the temple courtyard one day after school, like teenage fruit-stealing ninjas and devoured some delicious temple persimmons. They had been hanging invitingly on the lowest branch when we’d first eyed them after service the previous week. We had gleefully conspired then and their to stop by, when we thought the reverend was out making house calls and help ourselves to one of our favorite treats. Everything had gone according to plan, until we’d turned to leave and Reverend Tsukiyama entered the courtyard.
What could we say? We had orange persimmon juice all over our hands and faces. At first, it looked like he was about to laugh, but then his face turned very stern and he admonished us severely, naming every hideous realm of suffering we would end up in if we continued our lives of crime. We hadn’t known that after we’d gone running home that it had taken every ounce of control he had to not break out laughing when he’d discovered our shocked, setting-sun colored faces.

“Yuki,” the Reverend whispered. “Have you thought about your future?”

“What?” I said, still in a belligerent, melancholy daze.

“Your future. Have you thought about your future?”

“My future? It’s all I think about.”

“Well,” he chuckled mischievously. “If you don’t want to be a teacher or politician, I heard about a hospital in Sapporo that trains young girls to be nurses” his eyes sparkled, “and it doesn’t cost a single yen.”

I was stunned. He smiled a rapturous grin, then put on his stern, fatherly face. “Of course, it’s not entirely free. There is a catch.” My eyes were as big as saucers. “Once you finish their two-year program you have to work at their hospital for another two years. They provide room and board.”

I felt like I’d just been hit in the head with a large rock. “I thought you knew about this,” he said. “I’ve been telling all the girls about it.” My mouth hung open like a hungry carp.

I managed a few syllables, “No. I never . . .”

“If your parents don’t mind,” he continued, “I’d be glad to stop by later this week with the application and phone num . . .”

My shouting drowned out the good reverend before he finished his sentence.

“Yes, yes, yes! How do I apply? When does it start?”

He didn’t have time to answer. I turned to Haha and Chichi and pleaded shamelessly, “Please, please say yes!” I was jumping up and down like a kid who wanted a sweetened dumpling.

They hesitated, then Haha anxiously asked, “You want to be a nurse?”

“Yes!” I shouted. “With all my heart.”

“You never mentioned this before.”

“I thought it was impossible.”

Chichi turned stoically towards my black-robed savior and stated calmly, “We’ll think about it Reverend. It’s most kind of you to consider Yuki worthy of such a program. You know you are always welcome in our home.”

“They’d think about it?!” I screamed in my head. The answer to my prayers had just been delivered like a divine telegram and all they could say was, “they’d think about it!” I took a deep breath, put on my best face and managed a feeble semblance of control. At least they were considering it. In my vocabulary, that was as good as a yes!

At that moment my little girls promise to my Chichi to never leave our village had been washed away in a flood of excitement, but he hadn’t forgotten. Caught up in the moment, I didn’t allow myself to see the pain and sense of betrayal that was boiling under my father’s skin.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

PART 1

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