April 27, 2017
“A bomb dropped so close to us that I got very scared and ran off,” my Mom said as she reminisced about her absent-mindedness in the midst of a battle storm. “Only after I ran 30 meters or so that I realized I was holding a pillow, and not you,” she smiled with an embarrassed chuckle. It was around April 30th, 1975, in Da Nang, Vietnam, one of the cities most affected by the Viet Nam War. I listened to her in delight. There was never a second of my life when I ever felt neglected or unloved by my Mom, so the part about being left behind never fazed me. It was always about my Mom running back into the bombed zone, risking her own life to grab her 2-month old daughter that amazed me. This was the first story that I know about my life—a life of a child caught in the crossroad; a life about the unconditional love between a mother and her children; and a life caught in power transition, living out the consequences of war.
I knew that we would lose my Mom even before she passed away. I wasn’t prophetic. I just have always been, as my older brother would put it, “highly observant, at times annoyingly so.” It was ten and a half years after I was born. We were floating in the middle of nowhere off the coast of Vietnam, in a dilapidated boat that was too small to fit 31 people, too unreliable to make it safely across sea, much less to the ambitious goal of America. My Mom cradled my frail, dehydrated 1.5 year-old sister in her arms, with the tropical sun beating down her worn face. She stared helplessly at my youngest sister, whose body was so lacerated from the deadly combination of newborn skin, heat, salt water and dehydration. My Mom had lost three children by this point, and I watched her gently stroking my sister, as if hoping her warmth and gentle touch could keep my sister alive several minutes longer. As my sister took her last breath, my Mom’s face transitioned from a desperate mother that was hanging on to her last hope, to a woman that can no longer see the meaning and purpose to life. My Mom speaks with her eyes, and as she lifted her face from my now-deceased sister and slowly glanced at me, I saw the two saddest pair of eyes I’ve ever witnessed even to this day, and knew that I would lose her too. I cried hysterically, almost to the point of convulsion. Superficially, it looked as if this was all driven by my sister’s death, but I knew I was crying for the loss of both. My Mom was always a fighter - quiet, yet resilient - but her face no longer exhibit any fight left in her. Her children meant everything, and to lose four, while staring at a future of possibly losing both of my brothers and me, was too much for her to handle. My older brother and I found my Mom dead two days later in her sleep. She was the same age as I am today. My younger brother also passed away that same night. And I am glad she did not have to witness that.
April 30th was never about winning or losing a war for me. It has been about unwarranted loss of lives, hopes, and dreams. Sometimes I’m expected to embrace or condemn the Vietnamese or Americans that partook on either sides. I don’t. Instead, I live firmly in a world where I never wish war on anyone, and I do whatever I can to prevent such atrocities for others. Sometimes when we witness deaths, we achieve clarity of life. I would say that’s true for me, repeated many times over. We all should instead mobilize to help everyone on this earth achieve the one goal of life - to have a meaningful, peaceful existence. Everything else means very little, including money, power and fame.