Thursday, January 31, 2013

Living Forward

Image courtesy of Sardinelly

I recently learned about a grave somewhere in France at the head of which stands a marker with this inscription: "In memory of Maggie, a mule, who in her lifetime kicked 1 colonel, 1 major, 3 lieutenants, 11 sergeants, 27 privates, and 1 bomb."

Maybe Maggie had it in for officers. Maybe she blamed them for her misery and ill treatment. Maybe she blamed them every time she was forced into service. I don’t know – there’s no telling what goes through a mule’s head. And there’s no telling why she kicked a bomb.

But Maggie isn’t the only one who has gone through life kicking out and blaming others for their misery. Most of us have probably acquired a long list of things to kick about and have done our sharing of kicking.

Kim Phuc has more to kick about than most of us. Photographer Nick Ut received a Pulitzer Prize for a dramatic war-time picture taken in Viet Nam. You may remember seeing it. The black and white picture shows a little girl in agony walking naked down a country road amongst other weeping children. Dark smoke hangs heavily in the sky behind the fleeing group. The child's arms are painfully outstretched and her face is contorted in an expression of terror and misery. A Napalm bomb, dropped on her village, seared off the little girl's clothing and severely burned her skin.

The date is June 8, 1972. The child, Kim Phuc, was carried by Nick to a truck and transported to an area hospital. She cried over and over, "Nóng Quá, Nóng Quá," which means "Too hot! Too hot!"

Kim hovered between life and death. She required 17 different surgical operations and months of rehabilitation. Today, she lives in Canada and has become an important spokesperson on issues of war and peace. "Pain never disappears," Kim says. "You just learn how to deal with it."

In 1996 she was asked to say a few words at the Viet Nam War Memorial in Washington D.C. Kim talked about forgiving those people who were responsible for all the misery and suffering inflicted that tragic day. She said, "Even if I could talk face to face with the pilot who dropped the bombs, I would tell him we cannot change history but we should try to do good things for the present and for the future to promote peace." It was a message of forgiveness. She knew that her acts of reconciliation were the bricks that could pave the only true road to peace.

Kim could easily spend the rest of her life kicking out at those who caused her so much misery. There are certainly plenty of people she can blame for her suffering. She could have grown up a bitter and resentful woman. But instead, she is a person of graceful dignity.

Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard teaches, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Kim chooses every day to live her life forward, to “do good things for the present and the future.” Every day Kim chooses a better way. Every day Kim chooses life.

And every day, that’s a choice we all must make.

-- Steve Goodier

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