Archive for Wednesday, March 5, 2008

In 1970s war caused us to change

March 5, 2008

It is a prayer bracelet; 33 orange, tear drop shaped beads, attached by a string and anchored on the end by an elongated orange bead and a small tiny bead the size of a tear drop itself. It has lain in my desk drawer some 30 years since its owner gave it to me.

We were graduate students at KU; a group of us belonged to a seminar that met weekly. It was a group of international students, as many of whom had classes together. In the '70s, education was at its zenith; America at its best. Students came from all over the world to study and work in American institutions; there was an exchange of ideas and interplay of cultures that broadened us all. Or so it seemed.

We ate in each other's homes; celebrated respective holy and holidays together; watched over each other's children; visited hospital rooms when one of us was injured in a car wreck; sweated through graduate exams together; and tutored one another in difficult classes.

In May of l970, sentiment against the war broke out in campuses across the county; Kansas was no exception. Classes were disrupted; students rioted in the streets; a day of alternatives shut down final exams; faculty hid out in their offices; the Union burned; one student was shot; students took over the administration building. Those were days of protest; a time of new awakening; at least for American students.

By the end of summer, things settled down and things returned to normal; if anything ever returns to normal after such an awakening. By fall, classes resumed. Our relationships with students from abroad however had noticeably changed; more distant; more reserved; more cautious. We spent less time in one another's homes; ate less often together; only the weekly seminar attendance continued.

One autumn evening, it turned unseasonably cool; I found my friend leaving the library without a sweater or jacket and offered him a ride home. I walked him the last few steps from the car to this front door; a new fear had awakened many of the foreign students who did not like to be out alone at night. He shivered and I offered him my sweater.

He reluctantly took the sweater; announced that his father had called him home; handed me the prayer bracelet. We knew we would never meet again.

The days of war have been much upon us; a war between his country and mine. I think of him and other students with whom I studied-when exchange of ideas and peace itself was at its zenith; the days before war; days we may never see again.

One day I want to see my friend face to face; look into that heavily bearded face and dark eyes and ask him if war is really worth the price we pay. We may never know.

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