Today, April 10, is my brother Grant’s birthday. He and my father watch over my children. I am certain, if someone is considering mistreating one of them, the cold shiver running up their spine means my father is the one on watch, as frightening to those who cross his family in death as in life. He is the hunter Orion rising in the east at night, following the Pleiades.
I spoke to my father through Garden Road. As I composed my column, the consideration of how what I wrote would affect him could alter entire paragraphs and delete sentences. But this respect also created words I would not otherwise have formed.
Sometimes I consider myself born to be the biographer of his life. His stories were always more interesting than my own. The problem was, for me, he did not want his stories told.
Recently, Kyle Munson of The Des Moines Register paid a visit to the offices of The Wayne County Independent. For once, I was not the interviewer. I could sit back, relax and not worry about shaping the article. As interrogator, some of my subjects have found my questions therapeutic, they have told me, in that it makes them give more thought to why they have chosen their path. In recounting to Kyle how I reached this stage in my life, I appreciated the details of my own journey more, as well as the decisions made for my family.
My son Grant asks his parents what would happen if a bad man tried to break into our house. Jennifer tells him we are strong. Grant asks, ‘What if he has a gun or a sword?’ Jennifer asks me, in response, whether I am afraid of guns or swords. Without hesitation, as my father’s son, I said, ‘No.’
When Communist China, under hypnotic sway of the madman Chairman Mao, invaded Tibet and tortured and killed the self-reliant, peaceful lamas and monks and the laypeople and common folk they ministered to, they fought back with whatever weapons they could find.
“In 1956 the Chinese surrounded Litang monastery while a special ceremony was going on…. The monks refused to [surrender]… For sixty-four days… the monastery was besieged. The Chinese charged the walls and the monks fought with swords and spears. On the sixty-fourth day planes bombed and machine-gunned the monastery….”
So a witness described the scene. Only when the Communist horde brought in heavy artillery and pushed little buttons to drop bombs did the Tibetans relent.
Joseph Campbell, in Oriental Mythology: The Masks of God, paraphrased the gruesome result:
“One lama was crucified, another burned to death, two others were shot and wounded, then over one boiling water was poured and he was strangled, while the other was stoned and hit on the head with an ax.”
They were punished for being peaceful to their neighbors. In the age of the atomic weapon, when an entire section of a country could be dissolved by the selection of a numerical code, it is wise to understand what is out of our control. Arming yourself with a weapon is not enough. The shield must be psychological and spiritual foremost, never forgetting what Christ said in a message that seemed to foretell the blending and reconciliation between Western and Eastern beliefs: “You are gods.”
In the East, there is no one who is not considered God Incarnate, but most people have forgotten their lineage, in the East’s view. Cherry blossoms fall in Japan. It is difficult to believe a country like Germany that produced Frederick the Great, Beethoven and Goethe could also manufacture the killing factories of the Holocaust. Equally as perplexing is how a country as spiritually awake as Japan, its third eye open, could form an alliance with a monstrous doctrine, one that considered them racially inferior and would have eventually swallowed them whole if Hitler had full sway, and he did.
It is also strange the United States did not principally target the Japanese rulers who dishonorably performed their assigned duty—the punishment, after the fact, would have been ritual suicide for the guilty—instead of choosing a bombing, attrition campaign. It helped that some Americans considered the Japanese racially inferior.
My father killed men from a few feet away. A shotgun is a weapon for hand-to-hand combat, where quickness, skill and accuracy determined whether he and his buddies lived. And despite the realities of South Vietnamese corruption and French colonialism, Communism was a worthy evil to fight. Its message, as opposed to enlightenment, was that only the material world was real. It was an idolater of time, worshipping a vague, future era when all the bloodshed would bring 1,000 years of peace.
My brother would have been 48 today, and the gift I give him must be carefully considered. There is no rush. The first thought I had, pondering 48, was how near it is to half a century since he was born. That needs to be brushed away. It is just a number. I chase my brother into the grove, where we once shot each other with water guns, and he tells me, “I’m so glad it’s over, I missed you so much.” There are eyes in the evergreens. In that forest where we once found morel mushrooms, the smoke rises from burning leaves, then we sit quietly drinking tea.