Goosebumps crept up the back of my neck and into my hair at the base of my skull, wondering how these proud parents would feel if they were to lose their children to the terrors of battle. I think of Michael and cringe at that thought. These parents hear of others who have lost their sons and daughters in a war, but it still must be difficult to relate to such loss. Americans’ feelings are probably even more complicated because they also hate the war, at the same time, and want to dismantle the enemy, just as those of us who have experienced its bloody, fiery reality do, too.

This woman’s eyes expressed the innocence of the child I once was in my hometown Cu Chi, walking to school in the morning, day after day, after a deadly fight had occurred overnight, and having to step over rotting bodies to get to school and learning to pretend it was nothing. We were so innocent because we were so young and knew nothing about the realities of and the differences between death and life, just as these American soldiers’ parents are: experience forced us to learn quickly to look away and hold our noses because the stench of death filled the air right in the center of our town; to huddle, as silent as if we were dead, in our underground bomb shelter; and to not sleep because our very bodies were in danger day and night. Experience is the only true teacher. Life experience truly cannot be shared: it can only be earned.

I could say nothing directly to this proud mother. Her son was already overseas; I could not help her with or change that fact, although I wanted to and although I, too, at the same time, was grateful for his willingness to be ‘over there’ in that madness to try to preserve the quiet, relative safety of the streets most of us enjoy here at home.

I looked up finally, handed her receipt to her, and we smiled at each other: two women, two mothers, two human beings who were metaphorically on opposite sides of the ocean, standing face-to-face inside a small-town, American Post Office.

A Rose on the Steel Ground Outside the Post Office’s huge plate glass windows, I watched her walk away, head held high beneath towering pines waving softly across the silent, watchful blue eye of our American sky.

— Loan Ky Alexander

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