Biographical: Once Upon A Throne (Part V)
Thoughts and reflections....
Closing a chapter in a life extraordinary....
"I recognized the return address, and the letter called me to serve a three-year medical mission in Australia, to work with people there who had skin diseases.
"The family was stunned and examining my face to see how I was reacting. One spoke up and said 'You don't need to go; you have already served. Let them call someone else.'
"I responded truthfully, perhaps in part from that wanderlust my grandfather had experienced as a teen: 'You don't understand. Of all the people they (the Seventh-day Adventist Church) might have asked, they have asked me twice.' I sincerely meant it.
"In serving the lepers in southern Laos I had developed not only a love for them, but also a love and respect for the religious views of the others with whom I had served. I had experienced a unity in our efforts which I pray the Catholics and Protestants in all Christendom will one day experience. We represented the best of what it means to be Catholic, and Seventh-day Adventist, and Jehovah's Witness, and other denominations, for we were practicing our faith by our service to each other and to those who needed us. I was anxious to continue serving in that way.
"I left soon afterwards for Australia, with a church-provided ticket and the same pocket money I would bring back three years later. I was already prepared for what I might be doing, and I was anxious to experience something of a country I had only known from school lessons.
"When people ask where I served in Australia I usually answer 'Sydney.' But that was simply the nearest city that anyone might have heard of. We actually served in one of the dry, Sahara-like areas of Australia for which Sydney was simply the first hop of the kangaroo.
"If my legs now have tired veins (and they sometimes do) it could have something to do with my fourth, fifth, and sixth years of carrying that all-day knapsack and making rounds like the fabled "barefoot doctors" of Mao's China. Today my shoulders still have a groove in each shoulder from those loads, perhaps in a way similar to Africans and others who change the shape of their bodies by constant stretching, though in my case by compression. There was a major difference in Australia, sometimes I traveled by Jeep, simply because the area we served was much larger there than the area we served in Laos.
"We were once again an ecumenical group, and contrary to what some would assert, it is possible to have ecumenical prayers, as long as we are open to the spirit of the prayer even more than its possible structure. We needed the prayers and were thankful that the same unity of purpose blest our labors. The senior doctor was again a Catholic priest, and once again we had a mix of Catholic nuns and persons of other faiths.
"Western medicine follows sound fundamentals regardless of where it is practiced; and human beings are equally deserving of the best care available, whether they are westerners, Asians, or Aborigines. In Australia we did care for some leprous patients, especially some suffering from a form of leprosy which caused serious internal swellings which sometimes broke the skin and became infected leading to death. Most of our cases were patients, many of them nomadic, who had more traditional skin diseases, though those also often became infected due to flies and other insects getting to the ulcerated skin. Often we did extensive bandaging as much to protect against these sources of infection as to protect the wounds from other contaminants.
"With my pet pig left behind in Laos, I had little desire or time to raise anything but vegetables, though often while gardening, I looked over to the edge of the garden only to remember this was a different garden on a different continent; and no pig would be looking back at me.
"When I returned to Laos, my mother thought I might want to open a clinic similar to her own as a professional midwife. By then the situation in Xiengkhouangville had drastically changed, and for the safety and education of the children my parents had become refugees living in the administrative capitol city of Vientiane. It was about this same time that my father was appointed Governor of Champassak Province. It was a serious responsibility as the third of the original royal families of Laos lived in that province and often thought of the central government as a nuisance to be ignored.
"Father and mother worked together to better the lives of all the people in the province and were highly respected for their love and honesty. It was as much a diplomatic as an administrative assignment, for no matter how they behaved, the central government was often deferential to Prince Boun Oum Na Champassak and his family members for simple unity's sake.
"I returned to the city of Savannakhet and worked for a short time in the same hospital where I had received my R. N. training, but with my decision made I returned to Vientiane having told my parents that I had decided to enter the University of Vientiane and continue my medical studies with the goal of becoming a medical doctor. It seemed as if all this unaccustomed 'free time,' compared to the years as a medical missionary, was too good to waste when more education would mean there would be more opportunities in life.
'To finance my education I worked part-time in my uncle's medical practice, part-time as a trainer of teachers at a local grade school, and when possible I took students for summer tutoring at the beach in southern Thailand. Over the years I had other opportunities to work for the French Cultural Centers in Bangkok and in Savannakhet.
"These positions were especially fortunate for our family, for my mother and a favorite aunt were killed in the crash of a Continental Airlines aircraft which lost one of its two engines to mechanical failure while taking off from Savannakhet following their participation there at the funeral of another family member. The temporary position allowed me to help raise several of my brothers and sisters while my father coped as a single parent with the needs of the other family members.
"We lived at the French Cultural Center there and I made and sold thousands of cookies to help meet our financial needs. To this day I think those sisters and brothers who were with me think of me as part mother, part sister.
"I completed my exams and M. D.diploma from the University of Vientiane, and received a generous offer from a member of the Military Attache's office at the French Embassy. We had known him and his family for years, and he was able to arrange for me to have land in France where it was my intention to establish an orphanage for children orphaned in the fighting in Algeria, and by other catastrophes in areas the French had once held as colonies in Africa.
"While I was making up my mind concerning how I could handle the details of such a humanitarian project, an American asked me to tutor him in learning the Lao language. While this student made scant progress in learning Lao, he did make up his mind that he thought I would make a good wife. (How perceptive of him.)
"Wrestling with the biggest decision any man or woman can make in life, I invited him to meet some family friends and took him to visit the home and family of the Frenchman who had arranged for me to have a shot at opening the orphanage in France.
"I had forewarned the friends that I wanted to know what they thought I should do regarding this American's proposal.
"They liked him and told me that they thought God intended that I should have children of my own. My heart was also of the same opinion.
"Some years before, I had been visiting Bangkok with one of my sisters. She had heard of a famous fortune teller there and told me she wanted to go and have her fortune told. When her fortune had been told, she urged me to have the fortune teller tell my fortune. I didn't believe in such things and resisted until the fortune teller looked me in my eyes and said she would tell my fortune for free. To please my sister, and out of that same curiosity which keeps fortune tellers in business all over the world, I agreed.
"She told me that I would meet and marry a foreigner who already had two children. Marrying a foreigner was not a great stretch of the imagination, but marrying one who already had two children was. We left Bangkok and the fortune teller, and I gave my "fortune" no further thought, until I found myself serious about marrying this American who was a divorced father of two children, a boy and a girl.
"His first wife and children had accompanied him to his civilian job in Laos with the Vientiane office of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), but the first wife had soon decided their 12-year marriage left a lot to be desired, especially in Laos. Marriage counseling in America before they left for Laos, had done little to tighten their already fragile relationship and they had agreed it wasn't even in the best interests of their children to keep the marriage going. With his agreement, she had flown back to America with the two young children, headed for a divorce, but near enough to the two sets of grandparents that he had felt comfortable in fulfilling his indefinite contract agreement with USAID.
"So it was that, I married at age 36, soon became an American citizen, and following a move from Vientiane to Pakse back in southern Laos, we eventually settled in Falls Church, Virginia where my husband left government service, started two failed newspapers, and worked for a major insurance company while I gave birth to a beautiful daughter, and to twin sons within 14 months of our daughter's birth.
"In coming to America, we had sponsored one of my sisters to come, and later we sponsored our first cousin. She and my sister joined our household in Virginia. Both went to college in Virginia, are happily married and have families of their own. We also sponsored one of my Laotian in-laws and his family from Laos, and were recently visited by his daughter and her young family. All these former Laotians have worked hard, sought good educations, and are prospering with the freedoms America offers.
"I too have prospered, perhaps not in a monetary sense, although we have a nice home and what amounts to three businesses in Utah where we have lived since 1980, but more so in the sense that our five children have prospered (for I consider that the two the fortune teller told me I would have are ours to share, along with our other three.)
"Our daughter Cathy pursued a degree in biology and psychology. She has married a fine young man, himself a missionary who served in Belgium and Holland. Following his mission he graduated with a masters degree and is a certified social worker. They have five children now, four boys and a girl. Cathy served as a missionary fluent in Tagalog in Manila, Philippines, and has worked with young women struggling with anorexia and bulimia.
"Our other daughter, Susan, and eldest son Tom, have remained close to us though now they live in New Hampshire (where Susan earned her degree in mathematics) and in Alaska where Tom works as a computer expert for the National Park Service. Both are married to good partners. Susan and Tom have some memories of Laos, "memories" their stepbrothers and stepsister only had second-hand until our youngest twin, Dr. Bruce W. Jasper, PhD. took me, his wife, and six children "home to Laos" to see where I had grown up and meet more of our family there.
"Our oldest twin, Harry, completed a masters degree in accounting and is presently CEO of a county hospital in California. He served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in what was then the Fresno California Mission, and he is the parent of three of our eight grandsons.
"Bruce completed his doctoral degree in clinical neural psychology and has his own clinic in Cedar Rapids, Iowa where he and his wife are raising a great family of a boy and five girls. Bruce served a two-year LDS mission in what was then the Sacramento, California mission.
"My father worked briefly for the International Red Cross after the country's takeover by the Pathet Lao forces, but found his life there at that time stifling and risky. He left Laos with my stepmother and two of my brothers, and lived out the rest of his life in France with them and with my two half-sisters. Two of my sisters and their families have remained in Laos and are helping as the Pathet Lao build a modern Laos. Other family members now have ties to France, Canada, and Japan.
"It would appear that Grandfather's blessing to his children, in which he said that he had given his children educations, and it was to be their "land" and that would go with them wherever they went was as prophetic as his prophecy of his own death on "...that Friday at six o'clock."
"What is education?
"Certainly my education has been far more than studies interrupting soccer games, a fine Catholic school in Hanoi, my R. N. or my M.D, (neither of which can I use in America because the paper "proof" for them no longer exists) or my studies with a Chinese herbal doctor my grandfather had sent to study in Taiwan.
"My education started with the love of my parents and grandparents. It has come from people working together to help others, despite their nominal differences in men's terms. It has come from the sacrificing love of other parents who wanted to see their own children safe, healthy, and educated. It has come from a seemingly hopeless and nearly helpless leper smiling a nod of thanks. It has come from seeing the vengeance and callousness that can subjugate innocent people and diminish nations. It has come from having children of my own and the love and respect of my step-children.
"It has come from such things as the young girl who listed among the seven wonders of the world such things as taste, and touch, and smell, sight, and hearing, and love.
"Surely there is a God in heaven who knows of the suffering, the tests, and trials of His children here upon this earth, and who grieves over hatred and injustice, and thrills to welcome home an aging priest and, yes, loving and humble kings and queens who served their fellow humans when they had the strength, opportunity, and wisdom to do so.
"Several times recently our family members from France and I joined with other medical professionals from various countries and traveled to Laos to provide medical care and training. We found a Laos which is offering improved educational opportunities and health facilities to the Lao people and we were very encouraged that a country so long torn by wars has now become an equal and respected member of the family of nations.
"'To err is human, to forgive [is] divine.' May God give all His children a love for their fellow human beings which transcends those man-made "fences"which keep us from hugging each other in a true family reunion hug of brotherhood and thankfulness; thankfulness that we still have the potential to make a positive difference in each other's lives, and, by making that difference in another's life, enrich our own and the future."
Manolie and Demas
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