Back when the Vietnam war — and opinions about it — were raging, I volunteered to help conduct a door-to-door survey about it on behalf of a peace candidate.
This was at the stage when being anti-war could still get you labeled a commie-pinko-traitor who ought to leave the country if you didn’t love its politicians and generals, so I got a lot of doors slammed in my tender little teenage face.
I’ve long since forgotten all the door-slammers and insult screamers. But one woman, I’ll never forget.
I knocked on her door, asked if she’d be willing to take a three-question survey, then fired off question number one: “Are you in favor of the Vietnam war or against it?”
The woman stood there a moment with an utterly blank expression, then turned and called to an unseen person in another room, “Honey? What do we think of the Vietnam war?”
I don’t even remember what “honey’s” answer was, though it was almost certainly either pro-war or just anti the little high school hippie chick standing on the doorstep. I was and to this day remain gobsmacked by the woman’s response.
This was a time when friendships and families could shatter over the war — a time when Vietnam, the first “TV war,” was blasted into our faces every day of the week, when tens of thousands of young Americans and millions of Vietnamese were dying. “Honey? What do we think of the Vietnam war?”
It was inconceivable.
That was the first time I realized some people simply chose not to think. Hardly the last.
Nowadays I have a friend who is a kinder, sweeter person than I am by far. And she’s not stupid. But she doesn’t think. She doesn’t question.
She’s a Christian and one who truly strives to live in a Christian spirit. But when I twice asked her the basis of her beliefs, her answer was the same both times: “When I was a little girl, somebody” — she doesn’t recall who — “told me Jesus loved me and it made me feel good.”
And that was good enough for her forever.
I’m not disparaging her beliefs; they’ve gotten her through some very hard times and they’re part of what makes her so kind. But I’m just mind-boggled at the way she believes.
She “knows” that the bible is true. But when I try to discuss the bible or its history with her, it’s plain she hasn’t read the book and knows little about it beyond the few standard texts taught in her church.
When I mention controversial passages she’s never heard of them. Nevertheless, she remains completely unflapped.
“Oh, you should ask my pastor about that,” she says. “I’m sure he has a good explanation.”
Despite her hardships, her life sails along easily because “authority” — be it pastor, book, police officer, or television commentator — has all the hard stuff well in hand. When conflict or contradictions arise, she doesn’t worry much about it because she figures that people wiser than she have got it all worked out.
This works for her though her outlook is so alien to me that I just have to try not to get obnoxious when she gently tries to proselytize me or makes some TV-engendered claim about current events that I know not to be true.
But sometimes when she talks I feel as if I’m looking through a window into a parallel reality. One that scares me.
I had that feeling a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about people we know who handle terrible suffering with grace and others who fly into drama-queen mode over hangnails.
She mentioned someone on TV. “I never watch that show,” she said (she always says something like that when talking TV to me). “But on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ there’s a soldier who got his face all burnt and instead of whining and crying, there is is on national TV.”
I learned later she was talking about J.R. Martinez, who with his partner eventually won the competition. I agree it’s a touching story and Martinez must have a lot of grace.
But then after making that (for her) vigorously opinionated statement, she paused a few beats and in a flat voice I barely recognized as her own she recited:
“He’s a soldier. So he’s one of our heroes.”
I knew better than to ask the (to me) obvious question: “What specifically did he do as a soldier that made him ‘our’ hero?”
She would have considered such questioning absurd. But now, weeks later, I can’t get that strange, flat tone of her voice out of my head.