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07-Love Letters from Vietnam: On the Homefront
Note from Kate:
All I can say about reading letters 40 years after they were written, is do it! Typing these letters, posting them, thinking about their meaning in my life, is turning out to be more joyful than I could have ever imagined it would be.
This letter in particular is dear to me because it mentions two significant couples that were powerful in influencing my thinking. Mrs. K was a teacher of the deaf at the same school in which I taught and I loved her. She had a centered-ness to her that felt like wisdom. I admired her teaching, her work with parents, and her activism at home. Her husband was a doctor who, before Doctors Without Borders, volunteered every six months on the Ship Hope. All of my colleagues knew that first year I was teaching, that I had, coincidentally fallen in love with Tim. I remember walking into Mrs. K's classroom after school and sharing my excitement and my doubts about Tim with her. I remember asking her one day if it was ok that some things bothered me about Tim. "Listen, Kate, she said, "That's just how relationships are. Everyday Carl comes home and everyday he says, 'I'm home from the "horse-pi-tal". It drives me crazy, but that's just Carl.
One very significant night, before Tim enlisted, she invited us over to her house for supper. I felt honored. But it was an elevation of class for Tim and for me. Graduating from college often puts you with people whose lives have been different than your parents' more humble existence. I remember that they were Unitarian and we started into a discussion on abortion. Tim, having been in the minor seminary and I, having almost joined the convent out of high school, were rigid in our beliefs. I often think of that night and that discussion and how grateful I was to be exposed to ideas that I hadn't grown up with - ideas that gave me a choice as to which of my programmed beliefs I wanted to accept and which I wanted to reject. I will always be grateful for that evening and for the beginning of the evolution of my beliefs about war, about religion, and probably about myself.
The other people mentioned are Alice and Jim, also social activists. They moved into an inner city neighborhood because they believed in "integration," as they called it in those days. They had taken trips abroad to Europe and Africa and were young and committed, and I loved them.
In a way I was dancing on a tight rope. The man I loved had just enlisted, the friends I loved were socially conscious and worked in the world for peace and social justice. I found myself subconsciously apologizing for Tim's choice on the one hand, and trying to influence his thinking toward the people I admired on the other hand. I can read that in this letter. And I know those two forces continued to war inside of me as the outside war continued
15 June, 1969
(I just fell in the "Timothy" mood.) It's a fresh clear night; Mom and dad are both in cheery moods; talked to my love today; (Sunday)"God's in his heaven - all's right with the world."
The pound cake I'm making is still in the oven. I baked one first to see if it would be ok. I guess it tastes like pound cake - if that's what you like. (Hmmmm - guess it still tastes like pound cake even if that's not what you like). Pretty poor joke, huh?
Hold Cow! I just looked at the second pound cake. Did you ever see a cake that looks like it has a zipper down the middle? You will now.
After you called today, a friend of mine who works out at Camp Wil-O-Brooke (camp for mentally challenged kids) called. We hadn't kept in touch this year, but had been good friends last summer. I'm really looking forward to working with her again. She's so nice to be with. (Everyone at camp is fun to be with!) That's why I love it so. It's more like being on a vacation than working.
Yesterday I went to Mrs. K's daughter's wedding. (Remember, the teacher whom I admire so much - the one whose husband is a doctor?) It was an afternoon wedding at that Unitarian Church on Ogden. The ceremony was very short, but beautiful in its simplicity. Both Mrs. K and her husband walked down with Peggy (the bride). And the groom's parents walked down with him. It was very nice. Alice and Jim were there, too. Gee, they're great.
You know, Tim, I've been thinking about what you said about not being able to understand experiences of another unless you've experienced it yourself. You know, you're right. Last week, I talked to my friend Claudia who is just graduating this year in Deaf Education. I congratulated her, etc. and in the middle of our conversation she said, "You know, Kate, all this year I've had guilt feelings for the things I thought of you last year. I never knew or imagined that the senior year with Miss Streng* could have been that bad. It was that bad for me, but you know who understands - nobody, except those of us who've gone through it." You know what got me through that time, Tim? - this little poem. (I know I'm kind of a nut about sayings and poems), but, maybe this will help you. Anyway, you know when I have something on my mind, I just have to get it out, so here goes -
The deeper the darkness,
The brighter the dawn;
The spirt's rare gladness
Of sorrow is born;
The fiercer the tempest,
the sooner the calm:
The sharper the wound,
the more soothing the balm,
The brightest blossoms
lie close to the sod,
The lowliest hearts are nearest to God.
Do you like that? Gee, I could write forever, but I do get carried away.
But before I go, I wanted to tell you that I might take some kind of course in summer school at night, maybe Logic. I'm really looking forward to summer. (Gee, looking back on that paragraph, the news wasn't that vital, was it?) Well, now I must say good-bye.
Thank you for your calls, Tim. Remember that I want for you to be happy. You know (here I go again) hearing you talk today seemed to erase that span of time we've been separated. I felt as if you were just calling me from your house like before. (You know, we're awfully lucky to be living in such an age as this.) I would have hated to be living and loving during the Civil War!
Now I really will stop. (Don't you laugh either, you!)
Hope you have a good day today. Tell those d_ _ _ sergeants to go take a bottle of sleeping pills or something so they stop waking you up so early.
But against that strength of character I've seen and that staunch determinism of yours, and that precisely organized thinking process you have, those sergeants haven't got a chance. And I should know, I've seen it all in practice, and I love every part of it that makes you, you.
*(one of the nation's most respected deaf ed. trainers at the time, but a strong oralist, i.e. no sign language - another belief imposed that needed to be examined. More on that later.)