Lori Thatcher

Writing and Thinking about writing

What Did I Know?

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My yoga teacher stepped toward me and, without touching me, pushed me out of the hall and into her tiny living room. The look in Ellefern’s normally gentle eyes was intense, almost fierce.
“You haven’t been in his shoes. You haven’t seen what he has. You can’t know how it feels.” She spoke slowly, enunciating every word. I felt struck, deflated, as if she had taken a pin to my helium-filled self.
The gentleness returned to her aged but clear blue eyes as she said “Go make us some tea,” and turned to the highly agitated young man sitting on the stairs in the hall outside her apartment.
By the time I returned, Rolly, the young man, was sitting on one of several thick cushions that were Ellefern’s only living room furnishings. I watched her as she listened intently and he raved. I mirrored her and, for the first time that day, really listened to him as he swore and growled and boasted about killing scores of “gooks” in Vietnam.
That word was what had set me off earlier. As an arrogant, know-it-all teenager, I felt I had to challenge it. I had interrupted him and, with my superior world sense, said “They’re not ‘gooks,’ they are people just like you or me. That’s just a word you use to dehumanize them.”
That was the rhetoric I had learned from my anti-war friends. I really believed it, but I was blind to the inconsistency of my demand that a nameless Vietnamese soldier who was not present be respected, when I was not showing any respect to this wounded soldier who sat before me.
This time I stayed silent and listened with all my attention. As he finally slowed, I could see he was near tears. Ellefern was right, I couldn’t know what it was like and, at this point, my opinion didn’t matter. Not a bit.


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