Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Vietnam”

Agent Orange – Not Going Away?

During the Vietnam War (1961 – 1971) the US military launched a program called Operation Ranch Hand in which chemicals (herbicides and defoliants) which the Vietnamese  government estimates killed or maimed  400,000 people. In the ensuing years they claim that half a million children were born with birth defects.[1]

It was later discovered that Agent Orange (a 50:50 mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, if that makes any sense to you) contained an extremely toxic compound (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin). During Operation Ranch Handthe US military sprayed nearly 20 million US gallons (80 million liters)  mixed with jet fuel over Vietnam, Eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia. The goal of the program was to destroy the dense forests where the guerrillas took cover. In addition, they sought to destroy the resources needed by the indigenous population which would force them to live in the U.S. dominated cities. The idea here was to deprive the guerrillas of their rural support base and food supply.

All this is a history lesson, right? Wrong. History has a habit of not disappearing into books.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYlzApY5MM0

And a CBS report:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65KFpyxK0Ho&feature=related

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Here We Go Again – Norman Weekes

One of the problems of age is living through the repeated mistakes of the past. Decisions that lead us down a road we’ve been down before only to ensure suffering, punishment and horror on a new generation. The inexplicable replay of a nightmare that surely once lived would never return. But we see the same policies and bloodlust for profit override common sense. And so the McRib returns.

I tried the McRib when it originally debuted. I admit it. I am ashamed that I would try a meat substance named a rib which has no bone put between two pieces of bread. I know the rib bone was put there by God so we could eat the meat without putting it between two pieces of bread. I know adding barbeque sauce can make anything edible. I also know McDonald’s would sell zombie meat if they thought people would by it. I know this and still ate (most of)  that thing. Yet the temptation to simplify something perfect was too much to resist. I won’t get fooled again. 

Really?

Celebrity newscaster Diane Sawyer publicly declared her affinity for the mystery sandwich. Her Nixonian roots lead me to believe she doesn’t really like the McRib (I just can’t see anyone making her salary eating anything from McDonald’s) and she’s practicing good old fashioned advertiser ass-kissing. That’s the problem with our propensity to make mistakes. Half of it is agenda driven and the other half is ignorance.

The McRib is only a symbol. Vietnam/Afghanistan, 1929/2008, The Gilded Age/The Present Age, Clarence Thomas/ Herman Cain. We don’t teach, we don’t learn, we don’t remember. We walk out of movie sequels saying, “That wasn’t as good as the first one.”  Style trumps substance, marriage becomes a business model, athletes are our spiritual leaders and there’s no national moral compass, GPS or iPhone voice to tell us how to behave. We should know better but we don’t.

Three-eyed-fish - from The Simpsons

Three weeks before 9/11 we were a country self absorbed with shark attacks in Florida. Then the planes exploded and we rallied around our president, our country and each other. Shortly after George told us to go shopping, invaded Iraq while we were at the mall and the feel good ended.

Now we feel good again because of the hope and awakening of the Occupi. The leaderless organization as an agent of international change is new and exciting. I hope it is successful. But if they anoint a leader and begin to “negotiate” I’ll politely pass on this sequel.

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Norman Weekes is a volunteer in social justice non profits, account executive looking for work and occasional political activist.

 

Andy Brandi – P.T.S.D Counsellor

Today is Veteran’s Day. I have lifted this post from my friend, Al Levenson, who blogs about his experience: A Year on the Road.Al met a man named Andy Brandi who served in the Vietnam War. Forty years on, Andy is still living the war.

Andy recounted to Al how when he sits in a room, he will always have his back to a wall and be able to see the door. When he crosses a parking lot he will automatically scan the roofs of the surrounding buildings. A car backfiring can make him instantly drop to the floor. 

These stories sent chills through me.When my family first arrived in the US, we visited Chinatown in San Francisco with some friends. As we exited a store someone let off a firecracker. I instinctively threw my son (then 2 years old) behind a parked car and dived on top of him.

I freaked the group out (not least my two-year-old) and we decided to go sit for ice cream and tea. One of our friends asked me about my reaction and my wife told about other behavior traits I have that I took as ‘normal.’ This was the first I heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D). I too hate to have my back to a door and scan around me in unfamiliar urban areas. I have been shot at from roof tops and had rocks and Molotov cocktails thrown from above.

Today P.T.S.D is recognized as a genuine anxiety disorder caused by extreme psychological trauma. In a severe condition, it can overwhelm the person and rend them helpless to deal with it. Symptoms include “re-experiencing the stress through flashbacks, or nightmares, difficulty falling or staying asleep,anger and hypervigilence to the extent of impaired social function. Most often, they are plagued by a feeling if intense guilt that they survived when so many who were close to them did not.

Andy has written a book meant to serve as a guide for those (and their loved ones) who are fighting a fight they should have left behind in the desert or the jungles. Al says that The Warrior’s Guide to Insanity, Traumatic Stress and Life, “is a book that will haunt you from the first page.”


Al says that the most important message in the  book is that there is help available to the combat vets today.  Although Andy is critical of the level of services, they are vastly underfunded in his opinion, he points out that the Veteran’s Administration does offer counseling, and there is peer support at the posts of Veterans of Foreign Wars. He encourages veterans to reach out to these services.

Finally, Brandi wants to get his book in the hands of elected officials, who need to understand that a war costs more than the weapons and soldiers deployed.

Andy maintains a website (www.sgtbrandi.com) from where he wants to reach out and support veterans. He is also happy to speak to veteran’s groups.

The Warrior’s Guide to Insanity, Traumatic Stress and Life   is free to combat vets and their families and Andy funds his book giveaway from his own pension and disability checks. If you wish to help get his books into the hands of those who need it, you can donate at the following address. Just $20 can help cover the p&p  for a half dozen books to get to men and women who need to read it.

Sergeant Brandi, P.O. Box 574, Cerrillos, New Mexico, 87010.

The Warrior’s Guide to Insanity, Traumatic Stress and Life is also available from Amazon in tree or e-book. Buying a copy will help fund more books going out for free. Put that book in the hands of a veteran that you know is suffering.

Show them you care.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Millennials – Another Point-of-View

I wrote a post on Friday about how I see the millennials and paid tribute to their parents. A few people have taken issue with me and claim that I wrote a very one-sided article. Probably true. So today I wish to focus on the other side of the coin. Ironically, the Pew report that I referenced on Friday, has something to substantiate this perspective.

Millennials claim that what sets them apart from previous generations is their relationship with technology. I think they mean that they are better connected to their family and friends, more in touch with cultural changes, and genuinely believe that technology unites rather than isolates people. I do not think we should read anything into the fact that 83% of millennials sleep with their cell phones. I know what you’re thinking!

Social historian Neil Howe disagrees. He sees millennials as sheltered by helicopter parents who wouldn’t even let them go unattended to the park to play. With their parents always there, picking them up from school, driving them to play dates and soccer practice, there should be little reason to wonder why the millennial has sought to leverage technology to build community.

While their parents fought for individual rights and boundaries, the millennial seeks community and acceptance. In many respects, they are more conventional with regard to social mores. “Asked about their life goals, 52% say being a good parent is most important to them, followed by having a successful marriage; 59% think that the trend of more single women having children is bad for society.”

The study also shows that they tend to see the trend of unmarried couples living together as not the optimum solution. Their desire for inclusiveness is well illustrated in that, though they support the institution of marriage, they believe that gay and interracial couple should share the marital experience.

One final point touches my work at the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center. There is a general perception that the millennials are not interested in religion, or as one individual told me: “the millennials religion is themselves.” But what the study shows is that the young generation sees itself as spiritual and do pray. What it reveals is that the millennials are not attracted to institutional religion.

I think we can take great hope out of this study. This generation might not be turning out the way the older members of the community are (but then who ever did?), but this is a generation seeking experiences that are meaningful to them and they want to do this as part of a community.

Students are looking for community

Above all, the millennials are incredibly optimistic. This study has left me feeling optimistic too.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Millennials – We are missing the point

The Pew Research Center has recently released a study comparing about the millennials. Since I work with college students I am particularly interested, though not surprised at the results.

Forty years ago, as the college campuses erupted in protests to the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, students held sit-ins, threw stones at police and when the National Guard opened fire at Kent State, killing four students, and the entire college system was galvanized and ground to a halt.

It is hard to imagine anything galvanizing students today and the Pew study highlights how this generation, instead of rebelling against their parents actually embrace their values. An earlier study asked the students to list their three heroes. Most included at least one of their parents.

Forty years ago, 74% of students responded to a Gallup poll agreeing that their parents’ generation was corrupt and that they felt alienated from their values. Today’s college students are Facebook friends with their parents and text them on average 10x a week. They shop together because they wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, and the millennials credit their parents as having superior values to their own generation.

Parents and children still tied together virtually

This, and similar studies, has led to considerable criticism of the millennials: that they lack values and motivation, that they embrace an air of entitlement, that they are more concerned with the latest cell phone than the headlines of a newspaper.

There are two mistakes here. Firstly, if we are going to compare between the two generations, we would have to admit that this generation has better education, opinions that are more diverse and have an inherent belief in the system. But it is the advancement of technology and social media that is shaping this generation and it is making comparisons with past generations almost impossible.

But there is a second point that we are missing. While it is easy to berate the millennials while idealizing their parents’ radicalization at their age, we forget to give credit to this generation’s parents. These are the people who, through honest and committed parenting, have engendered the close bonds with their children. By listening to their music and watching their TV programs, this generation of parents are informed about their children as no other generation ever was.

These parents are deeply committed to being a part of their children’s’ lives without offering value judgments that would push their children away. By embracing their children and joining them on their own turf (Facebook, Twitter, texting), they are engendering a sense of intergenerational acceptance that is unique and deserves credit.

Perhaps it was something that evolved during those college protests forty years ago, but today we are so focused on the millennials, we forget that their parents are still out there holding their values up for the whole world to see.

When I meet the parents of my students and see their mutual love,  commitment and comfort, it inspires me to be a better parent to my children because I see the bond between them as a cause worth fighting for. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Memorial Day – Another Perspective

When I first came to the US, I asked a colleague how one behaves on Memorial Day. She looked at me in surprise. “Fire up the barbecue and chill the beer.” Allowing for the disturbing thought of chilling beer (I am a Brit and newly arrived in the US), I was surprised at her response. “What about the memories of soldiers?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said, creasing her brow. “There’s some of that on army bases and at cemeteries, I guess.”

Today, I would like to share how Memorial Day is observed in Israel, where everyone serves in the army and so everyone knows someone who lost their life in uniform. This is an excerpt form my next novel, Unwanted Heroes.

At 11am, a siren is sounded and the whole country comes to a stop.

++++

James sighs. “I served in the marines in Vietnam. Jane knows I was an officer, a decorated officer. There are five medals in a case in my den. My unit was honored by President Johnson and he spent some time visiting us.”

He pauses, staring into a distant past. “Jane knows that while her friends’ families organize barbeques on Memorial Day, her father disappears. She knows that in the days leading up to Memorial Day, he secludes himself in his den when he’s not at the office, and that he doesn’t share jokes or listen very well to his little girl’s stories.

“Maybe she sees him drinking more during this time, though I hope not. Perhaps she sees that her mother is uncharacteristically understanding and supportive, stealing worried glances at her husband, knowing she is powerless to help.”

James stops for a moment and takes a long, contemplative drink and a deep breath before continuing with unconcealed venom.

“I hate Memorial Day. I hate that it’s a national excuse to party. You know, I went on a business trip once to Israel and the middle of the trip coincided with their Memorial Day. Every man serves in the army there and many women too. Everyone has lost somebody. I was being driven from Tel Aviv to Haifa on their equivalent of Highway 5. At exactly eleven in the morning the driver pulled over. My host had forewarned me that this would happen, but I was still astonished at what I saw. We all got out of our cars, I mean everyone. The whole highway stopped; six lanes of traffic. People stood in silence by their cars, heads bowed, as sirens wailed from car radios.”

++++

Now I enjoy a barbecue just like the next non-meat eater, and I have even learned to drink my beer chilled. But can we not find 60 seconds in the day and bring the whole country to a stop: to remember, to reflect, to honor?

Just 60 seconds.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Movies That Matter: The Deer Hunter Veterans Day 5

The Deer Hunter is one of the classics with regard to anti-war movies. But it is far more than just focusing on one guy and his inevitable downfall. It is a story of friendship and loyalty. Even when we don’t see the soldiers we served with for years, there is a link that will never be broken, a comfort that immediately takes hold even before the first bottle cap is released. It is also what makes it so hard when these same friends don’t make it.

The Deer Hunter won several Academy Awards, though to be honest this neither makes it a great movie, not does it denigrate other movies of the time. I was surprised to learn that one of the most memorable aspects of the movie, Russian-roulette gambling games, were not part of the Vietnam war, I learned that Director Michael Cimino used them as a metaphor for the futility of war. The connection between what happened in Vietnam and what happened to their families back in Pennsylvania, gives the movie a needed perspective that is so often ignored.

This might be the age of the Internet when news is old by the end of the day, but The Deer Hunter is 41 years old, and still as relevant as it was then. ——————————————————————————————————-

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

Why I Write by Karl Marlantes (Veterans Day 4)

I took the following interview almost verbatim as it is so powerful. The link brings you to the full article.

Why I Write by Karl Marlantes — Publishers Weekly, 1/25/2010

Having read a galley of my novel, Matterhorn, about Marines in Vietnam, a somewhat embarrassed woman came up to me and said, “I didn’t even know you guys slept outside.” She was college educated and had been an active protester against the war. I felt that my novel had built a small bridge.

The chasm that small bridge crossed is still wide and deep in this country. I remember being in uniform in early 1970, delivering a document to the White House, when I was accosted by a group of students waving Vietcong and North Vietnamese flags. They shouted obscenities and jeered at me. I could only stand there stunned, thinking of my dead and maimed friends, wanting desperately to tell these students that my friends and I were just like them: their age, even younger, with the same feelings, yearnings, and passions. Later, I quite fell for a girl who was doing her master’s thesis on D. H. Lawrence. Late one night we were sitting on the stairs to her apartment and I told her that I’d been a Marine in Vietnam. “They’re the worst,” she cried, and ran up the stairs, leaving me standing there in bewilderment.

After the war, I worked as a business consultant to international energy companies to support a family, eventually being blessed with five children. I began writing Matterhorn in 1975 and for more than 30 years, I kept working on my novel in my spare time, unable to get an agent or publisher to even read the manuscript. Certainly, writing the novel was a way of dealing with the wounds of combat, but why would I subject myself to the further wounds all writers receive trying to get published? I think it’s because I’ve wanted to reach out to those people on the other side of the chasm who delivered the wound of misunderstanding. I wanted to be understood.

Writing to be understood is a powerful motivator for anyone. For one who served to defend his/her country, it is so hard to return and be scorned by those you believe you were defending in the field. I experienced this when I would return on leave from my service during the first Intifada in Gaza. This is what brought me to a war veteran writing to be understood in Unwanted Heroes.

I hear you, Karl. I just wish so many others could find such an outlet to heal themselves.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

Veteran’s Day 1

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I would like to offer a week focusing on the issue. Here is an excerpt from my latest manuscript, Unwanted Heroes. The novel highlights the way we treat war veterans in the US. It focuses on the struggles of an Asian-American Vietnam war vet who tries to put the voices at bay before his whole life falls apart.  The scene below takes place at the War Cemetery in the Presidio, San Francisco.

Here is a quick intro to the characters.

Narrator – Will – a young Englishman who has come to San Francisco to write. Works as a barista.

James – his girlfriend’s father. Also a war vet and a mentor to Will

Mr. Tzu – Vietnam War Vet. The funeral is for his brother, also a war vet. He never told his wife that he had a brother.

Salvador – a homeless ex-philosophy professor.

****

It is a gray, cloudy Bay Area day in the Presidio: as it should be. James meets me for an early lunch and then drives me to the cemetery. We eat in near silence and I can only imagine how tough this must be for him. But he never hesitated in agreeing to come. James was a soldier, still is.

The nearest I’ve ever come to witnessing military funerals have been Hollywood movies. I’m immediately consumed with the intensity as the honor guard solemnly marches to the graveside. These young men are so polished, so precise. I wondered whether this is a chore for them or whether they truly see it as an honor, a tribute to a fallen comrade they never knew.

The casket is lowered and I glance over at Tzu, his hands deep in the pockets of a thick coat. He stands still, every facial muscle, I think, straining to do its duty. Their children aren’t here. I doubt Tzu even asked them to make the trip. His wife stands by his side, gazing down at the casket of the brother-in-law she never knew existed.

What thoughts are going through her head? Could she have helped? Could she have made the difference, tipped the scales? Could this so easily have been her husband if they had never met? Or at some point in the future?

But all I can see are the heavy lines of Chinese history, lines of suffering etched across her face. As I look, I prefer to picture the laughing Mrs. Tzu, siding with Jane and Tabitha to bully me, and chiding me for not writing to my mother.

The 3 Volley gun salute abruptly jolts me from my thoughts. Birds soar from nearby trees. I cringe with each volley and feel James take my arm. I resist looking at him, he might not want me to, but I make room for his hand on my upper arm and his fingers grip tightly.

The flag is folded with incredible precision and offered to Mr. Tzu. He takes it solemnly, stares at it and then caresses it to his heart. I think I see tears in his eyes, it is hard to be sure: my own are blurry.

And then the bugler plays Taps. His notes ring out, rising to the top of the pines, up into the swollen clouds, and out towards the partly shrouded Golden Gate Bridge. Then, abruptly, it is over. The few people in attendance are all Asian, save for the honor guard, James and myself. We hold back as they pay their respects to Tzu, shaking hands and occasionally a stiff hug.

When only Tzu and his wife are left, I introduce James.

“It was a beautiful ceremony,” I say to Mr. Tzu, “I’m sure your brother was very proud.”

He nods and Mrs. Tzu smiles and thanks me for coming.

Tzu and James exchange words. It’s code to me: battalion numbers, battlefields. Then James glances to the grave.

“You buried him away from the last line. You wish to reserve the adjacent plots?”

“You cannot reserve spots, other than for a spouse,” Tzu replies softly. “But maybe when my time comes, it would be nice to be near him.”

James nods and looks back at the newly dug grave. “I have a friend. I’d be happy to put in a call. Would you mind?”

Mrs. Tzu quickly answers for her proud husband. “Husband appreciate very much, Mr. van Ness. Thank you. You have wonderful daughter. You must be very proud.”

“Oh I am,” James replies and his pride shines through the gloomy weather.

Mrs. Tzu nods theatrically at me. “Just not sure of her taste in men,” she adds raising an eyebrow.

“She gets that from her mother,” his reply is smooth.

As I turn with Tzu away from the grave, the conversation vanishes from my mind.

They stand in two rows, a different guard of honor, wearing uniforms of faded, tattered layers. They leave a corridor for Tzu to walk through. Salvador is first and there are about twelve of them; come to pay their last respects to a colleague, a brother of the street, another homeless hero who fought the good fight for as long as he could.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Heroes – Memorial Day 2009

My latest novel, completed but not finished editing, changes title every few weeks. The current favorite is: Unwanted Heroes. It is a story that highlights the plight of the homeless, and in particular, war veterans.

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK and will be Veterans Day on Wednesday here in the US. The following passage from Unwanted Heroes is in honor of our war vets.

***************************************************************************

It is a gray, cloudy Bay Area day in the Presidio: as it should be. James meets me for an early lunch and then drives me to the cemetery. We ate in near silence and I realize this isn’t easy for him. But he never hesitated in agreeing to come. James was a soldier, still is.

The nearest I’ve ever come to witnessing military funerals have been Hollywood dramatizations. I’m immediately consumed with the intensity as the honor guard solemnly makes their way to the graveside. These young men so polished, so precise. I wondered whether this is a chore for them or whether they truly see it as an honor, a tribute to a fallen comrade they never knew.

The wind whistles through the swaying pines. For a moment I fancy I hear a voice: voices on the wind. He was one of us…We are brothers-in-arms and one day, we will all meet here.

The casket is lowered and I glance over at Tzu, his hands in the pockets of a thick coat. He stands still, every facial muscle straining, I think, to do its duty. Their children aren’t here. I doubt he even asked them to make the trip. Only his wife stands by his side; she gazes down at the casket of a man she’d never known existed.
What thoughts are going through her head? Could she have helped? Could she have made the difference, tipped the scales? Could this so easily have been her husband if they had never met? Or some point in the future?

But nothing is revealed through the heavy lines of Chinese history etched across her face. As I look at her, I prefer to picture the laughing Mrs. Tzu, siding with Jane and Tabitha to bully me, and chiding me for not writing to my mother.

The 21-gun salute abruptly jolts me from my thoughts. Birds soar from nearby trees. I cringe with each volley and feel James take my arm. I resist looking at him, he might not want me to, but I make room for his hand on my upper arm and his fingers grip tightly.

The flag is folded with incredible precision and offered to Mr. Tzu. He takes it solemnly, stares at it and then caresses it to his heart. I think I see tears in his eyes, it is hard to be sure: my own are blurry.

And then the bugler plays the Taps. His notes ring out and rise to the tops of the pine trees, up into the swollen clouds, and out towards the partly shrouded Golden Gate Bridge. Then, just as abruptly, it is over. The few people in attendance are all Asian, save for the honor guard, James and myself. We hold back as they pay their respects to Tzu, shaking hands and occasionally a stiff hug.

When only Tzu and his wife are left, I introduce James. I tell Tzu that it was a beautiful ceremony and that I’m sure his brother would have been proud. He nods and Mrs. Tzu smiles and thanks me for coming.

Tzu and James exchange words. It is code to me: numbers of units, of places where they’d fought. Then James glances to the grave.

“You buried him away from the last line. You wish to reserve the adjacent plots?”

“You cannot reserve spots, other than for a spouse,” Tzu replies softly. “But maybe when my time comes, it would be nice to be near him.”

James nods and looks back at the newly dug grave. “I have friends. I’d be happy to put in a call. Would you mind?”

Mrs. Tzu answers for her husband. “My husband would appreciate it, thank you. You have a wonderful daughter. You must be very proud.”

“Oh I am,” James replies and his pride shines through the gloomy weather.

Mrs. Tzu nods theatrically at me. “Just not sure of her taste in men,” she adds lightly.

“She gets that from her mother,” the reply comes smoothly.

As I turn with Tzu away from the grave, the conversation vanishes instantly from my mind.

They stand in two rows, a different guard of honor, leaving a corridor for Tzu to walk through. Salvador is first and there are about twelve of them; come to pay their last respects to a colleague, a brother from the street, a friend who fought the good fight for as long as he could.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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