Two  Words That  Changed My Life

Two Words That Changed My Life

In college I participated in Chi Alpha, a faith-based student group. When I started dating  a young man of a different faith, he enjoyed coming to the gatherings with me and was accepted by the group. We were fond of each other, but his feelings grew stronger and more serious than mine.

I felt it only fair to end the relationship. We parted amicably but he left our group; it was awkward for both of us. Although I felt the breakup was necessary, I grieved for the loss of our friendship.

One evening several of us were talking in a group when a new member of our group joined us. We knew little about him other than he had recently left the Army and started attending our college. He looked at me and said, “Where is John tonight?” (not his real name) No one spoke as everyone looked from me to him and back to me. Apparently he was the only one who didn’t know we had broken up.

Finally, one of the girls softly explained, “They aren’t dating anymore.” Everyone remained silent, I suppose assuming I was upset at the reminder. I wasn’t upset but I realized everyone else was uncomfortable. I didn’t want our new friend to feel bad about the mistake, so I tried to make light of it. I blurted out the first thing that popped into my head. “That’s right,” I said smiling.  “I’m available.”

With that, everyone, including me, laughed. Thinking back now, I puzzle why I said that. It was out of character for me, a confirmed introvert, and besides, I did not need or want another romantic relationship with anyone. I was planning to attend medical school, and romance did not fit into that plan.

However, the young man took me seriously, calling me a few days later to ask for a date. And despite my reluctance to become involved, I said yes. “What harm could it do?” I thought. “Why sit in the dorm alone on Friday night?”

That night I learned about Raymond’s past. He separated from the Army after serving for three years. He had already earned a bachelor’s degree and was attending graduate school with his veteran’s benefits. I casually asked if he had been stationed overseas. He said yes- he had served in Germany and in Vietnam. I did not realize those words also would change my life.

soldiers at a remote military base
various scenes from the firebase where Raymond was stationed in VietNam; I understood nothing about what happened there.

This was 1972 and  the American war in Vietnam was raging. The United States government needed soldiers to carry out the engagement, and the draft was active and dreaded. The war was unpopular and divided our country. We watched the course of the conflict nightly on television news (no Internet  or social media then).

Raymond was the first person I knew personally who had served in Vietnam. Service members and veterans of that war were portrayed in the media as fighting an unnecessary, unjustified war at best and as baby killers at worst.Today military servicemembers and veterans are honored and considered heroes .  Today’s veterans feel proud of what they do; not so for those who served in Vietnam.

library interior
The reading room of the library looks the same as it did 40 years ago.

Over dates at  football games, church, social events and study times our feelings for each other grew. from friendship to love. He asked me to marry him a few weeks later, but I wouldn’t commit so soon. We married about 2 years later, as he completed his master’s degree.

Soon after our wedding I started medical school, graduated and started practicing.  He pursued a career in the Information Technology industry. We raised two sons, travelled, attended church.

But our “happily ever after” did not match reality. Our marriage was often tense, unsatisfying, and distant  and we did not understand why. We did not communicate well. He felt I was demanding and controlling. I felt he was insensitive and selfish. We had to look to the past to find the reason for the pain in our present.

family skiing on mountain
one of many family ski trips

Military medicine now recognizes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a common result of service in combat; 40 years ago it was unrecognized and untreated. There were no support groups, counselling or rehabilitative services available.

My husband said little about his military service, so for years we both suffered the effects of unrecognized PTSD. By the mid-1980s veterans’ groups pushed to recognize the service of Vietnam veterans and encouraged discussion about the psychic trauma many of them dealt with; and with that came opportunities for treatment and healing.

army veteran standing next to a floral bouquet at a memorial
We always visit the traveling Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall when it comes to our area.

Through counselling and a support group my husband faced the past and gained a will to move forward. After reading a book , A Missing Peace, written by another Vietnam veteran, he considered taking a trip back to Vietnam and after much thought, signed up, although we were both apprehensive.

He chose to travel with Vets with a Mission , VWAM,  a faith based non-profit  whose mission is “reconciliation” between former enemies in the Vietnam war, and also within the veterans’ themselves.

By touring the country and meeting VietNamese people in peacetime, Raymond began moving past the painful memories and creating a new history. He found a country still suffering from the after effects of many years of war, and found a new purpose for his life- to help the very country that had caused us so much pain.

man with Vietnamese boys laughing
Raymond making friends and having fun with some Vietnamese boys

That trip led to another, and another, and another- thirteen trips  serving on volunteer teams to Vietnam with VWAM.  He served by teaching the computer technology he spent years honing and mentored Vietnamese professionals as they developed skills like his.

I accompanied him on many of these trips, serving as physician on medical teams, treating poor Vietnamese citizens in free clinics. We made friends with other veterans and their families, and with Vietnamese people, who often respected American Vietnam veterans more than Americans do.

Raymond found “reconciliation”  for himself and we experienced it in our marriage.  It was a process and still is.

2 Corinthians 5: 18 – “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself

through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” motto of  VWAM

man next to concrete bunker
visiting an old war bunker on China Beach

As  a pre-teen I read a book about an American doctor who treated poor people in a foreign country. I developed an interest in  health care through that and other books, and decided to become a doctor. I dreamed of someday traveling overseas and treating people like he and other doctors did. I didn’t remember anything  about him except his name. I did an Internet search and found his story- Dr. Tom Dooley. He was a physician in the United States Navy and in the 1950s he was assigned to direct the care of refugees- in Vietnam. (After his military service, he founded a humanitarian organization and tragically died young of melanoma.)

When I watched  the war in Vietnam on TV news,  I didn’t realize the doctor I had read about had worked there. I never imagined that I would ever go there. And I never imagined that war would indirectly help me meet my husband, and create a family that brings me joy every day.  When I said, “I’m available” I had no idea how true that would be.

man and lady dressed in dance costumes
And I never expected us to do a ballroom dance routine for an audience!

Here are links to other posts about our travels to Vietnam

The end of the war was a beginning

Tuesday Travels-Vietnam

Building medical clinics in Vietnam

A Missing Peace: Vietnam : Finally Healing the Pain 

by Robert Seiple and Gregg Lewis          31-my2blq-rl

“The gripping account of the author’s experiences with “a war without closure” as a Marine aviator and as head of a relief agency ministering in that country. Through his own search for personal and national reconciliation, he shows us the only way to find real closure and genuine healing.”   (Amazon review)(This is an affiliate link.)

 

 

 

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25 thoughts on “Two Words That Changed My Life

  1. Came across your blog through Blogger’s Pit Stop and am friendly with Clearissa, Sue and Grammy Dee. What an amazing story you have shared. It is crazy how two little words can change your entire life. Or being the right place at the right time. A lot of people like to believe they are coincidences that change our lives, I believe it is part of the plan for our lives.

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    1. Thank you Leslie, I’m glad to discover your blog, it looks interesting and I want to read more of it. Yes, we believe the same, and both events played a part. If he had not been eligible for veterans’ benefits to attend school, he probably would not have come to OU , so we might not have met, at least not then. And that would have created a new set of possibilities. We like the way things turned out.

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  2. Aletha, I am so glad that I read this post. I love stories of how people met and your story is so beautiful and one that shows the hand of God guiding you. He will continue to guide you both and continue to administer healing to your journey. Your gift of writing speaks to hearts.
    This post will be featured on the Blogger’s Pit Stop on Friday. Thank you for a quality post.
    Kathleen
    Blogger’s Pit Stop

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  3. This is such an interesting and touching story. Two things stand out to me: (1) the fact that you trace your life back to those two words (I think some people would not have been so aware of their portent); and (2) the fact that your husband was able to finally work out his problems with PTSD and turn a negative into a positive through his volunteer missions back to Vietnam. I well remember those days — I graduated from college in 1972 and remember the intense anti-war sentiment of the time. Most people were angry with the politicians who sent young men into war, but some of the anger and disrespect did spill over onto the returning veterans who had merely followed the directive to serve and protect their country. Thank you for linking up at #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty. I’m sharing your post on social media.

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    1. Thank you Carol for that helpful feedback.
      I think for many years my husband and I thought of those two words as just a cute private joke between us, not as something life changing. I originally wrote the story for a contest whose theme was “your most life changing decision”. I think that’s when it finally clicked for me.
      As for my husband, the working out is a journey he and I are both still on, as are many other veterans, both ones from the VietNam era, and the new ones from the more recent conflicts. Unfortunately, it seems to be an unending issue so we hope sharing our story might help someone else. Thank you for sharing it.

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  4. My husband is an Australian Vietnam veteran who was called up for National Service. He suffers from PSTD and has good and bad days. Thanks for sharing with us at #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty

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