January 04, 2006

Viet Nam (Part One-Initial Reflection)

Today marks my second day back from Viet Nam. A mixed emotion in me persists upon my returning to Japan--of both immense, humbling gratitude for this recent experience and of unappeasable longing to stay where I just was. Two weeks were not enough and yet more than enough. Many of the people I met in Viet Nam seemed to have mastered the art in which these two ends are balanced--they have very little, but so much shows in their smile. Today as I bike around the cold, quiet streets of Wakayama City, an endless procession of images resonates within me like the perpetual stream of motor scooters on the streets of Saigon.

The question that confronts me now: "What next?" When subsumed by such a strong yearning for something past and gone, is it appropriate or wise to direct all of one's energy toward the act of forgetting? In many ways, that is what the modern world has taught us--to repress sentimentality, nostalgia, sincerity and affection; to replace it with a constant urge for the new, the 'cutting edge,' the 'key to success'--which is aligned with an ambiguous and destructive desire for that which is not myself. The desire to not be myself is despair, as Kierkegaard once wrote in The Sickness Unto Death. If one word would surface from the many that are apt to describe the spiritual condition of our present age, I would most likely choose despair. When life "ceases to be a joy and becomes an affliction," it is a sign that we have "renounced the act of being" for something that is always disappearing. Throughout my trip in Viet Nam, I participated in the life of a society, seeing everywhere signs of a hidden wholeness. Though our world now is indeed a broken world, everywhere in it are people who are trying to mend the fissures caused by war, ignorance, and poverty. In a similar manner, I am responsible for the same rehabilitation in my own life. My heart, my will, and my effort at living for truth has atrophied for some years now. Regardless of whether it involves Viet Nam, a country I hope to go back to and work in someday, it is unavoidable that I must change my life, must return to me. We make ourselves real by telling the truth.


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