in 7th grade i had a homeroom teacher who had just returned from viet nam.
the first day of class,
he said war was so horrible, he didn’t want us to ask questions.
very firmly, very politely, he repeated his request.
he told us if he felt like sharing a story,
i was glad he explained that to me.
for years i had watched war clips on the news.
i hadn’t been mature enough to associate
pain, loss and suffering with statistics
and pictures that seemed adventurous to a kid.
occasionally, he would tell a funny story,
like the time some village boys were rubbing their tummies
and licking their lips in anticipation of a delicious
meal they were going to share with the soldiers.
the soldiers noticed the entire bowl of food was moving.
when they drew near,
they saw an entire bowl of caterpillars,
standing up on end,
moving in hairy rhythm.
i’m also thinking about a story i read about a woman
who had grown up with a withdrawn mother.
as she grew up, she faulted her mother for her own struggles in life.
she found out her mother lost her entire family in the Holocaust.
her pain was so great,
she couldn’t speak of her loss,
even to her own children.
healing came when the daughter understood and accepted
her mother withdrew to
spare her the pain,
not cause her pain.
the mother’s love had been there all the time,
she was trying to live as normally as she could.
today, i’m returning to real life
as a mommy and a gramma.
i have to figure out how to keep living
when part of me died.
i have to figure out when to talk,
and when not to.
i have to learn to endure the pain,
without causing pain.
and i have to learn to refuse those caterpillars,
those waving, hairy beasts in my tummy,
that steal my appetite and my peace.
like my teacher/soldier,
i know they’re not nourishment.