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A World Apart (恍如隔世)3

A World Apart

I think I knew, at that moment, I would never love, or laugh again, or enjoy a cool breeze or sunset at the ocean villa. I would never have a baby of my own, or fall in love, not even have a husband. For weeks, I remained, sullen on my bunk, not eating, or caring, not working, until the CO finally gave in, and cut orders sending me home with a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I didn’t care: I wasn’t a person anymore.

As the motors of the airplane grew louder and carried me home across the Pacific, thirty years to the present, I kept reliving a dream-like scene over and over in my mind, it’s message subtle, deepening, engraving, its mark on my heart. In my mind, I saw the small procession of mourners, as they followed a small child’s casket, covered with an American flag, bathed with multi-colored flowers from the countryside of Vietnam. It sat on top of a small flatbed with wooden wheels, drawn by the yoked oxen from the field. I was there too, observing, unrecognized, a stranger among the people. From somewhere in the distance, a bell rang out, a salute, a walking tempo for the procession, which stopped to listen to the harmonic eulogy. Suddenly, appearing from the crowd, a young woman, clothed in black, her face covered with a transparent veil, asked to no one in particular: “For Whom Does this Bell Ring?” and, without warning, a faceless figure touches me on my shoulder, ever so lightly, and replies: “It tolls for thee, Maggie&ldots;it tolls for thee.”

Morning colors of sunrise appeared on the horizon, heralding a new day of light blues, crimson reds and faded pinks. While tiny stars still adorned their beauty, high tide threw waves of blue and white crashing to shore, breaking the silence of the earlier calm and serenity of the coast. The old kerosene light flickered to and fro on the windows of the widow’s peak, bringing me to reality, having dreamt of my days in Vietnam. I had been happiest as a child, here, in this old villa, filled with history and interesting things. Although my grandfather died while I was in Nam, the happiness he gave me, with fishing memories from this coastal refuge, lured me to end my life, as it had it’s root in the beginning. It is indeed fitting that I should return to the place where some glimpse of happiness had not deserted me.

Over the years the memories of my tour in Viet Nam did not dim with age, but remained an immortal sin, unforgiving and eternal. As the years passed, my homecoming to a despising nation only reinforced my beliefs about myself, for I despised me too, and of course, they were right to call me a ‘baby killer,’ even in their ignorance of how significant that specific title was for me. They didn’t know how right they were. It was time to stop the pain and accept my penance, if there was to be any salvation at all.

Raising the pistol, I quickly removed the safety lock and carefully pointed the barrel toward my temple. The cool steel against my head seemed reassuring, and I felt a little surprised that this was going to be easier than I thought it would be. But for the mirror of my deed, I might have pulled the trigger and ended my pain, but from the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of my desperate reflection in the window, and felt compelled to turn. It was then that the crumpled pieces of parchment caught my attention, only slightly visible, unobtrusively tucked between the old faded barn-boards of the walls. I heard a small and gentle voice within me say “Wait! Wait!.”

Oddly drawn to the ill-placed and carefully hidden parchments, I placed the gun on the wicker table near the lamp, and carefully pulled the wooden planks away from the wall, retrieving the stained and yellowed letters. One in particular caught my attention, and raising the light slightly, I began to read the last letter of Captain Gordon Albright to his wife, Sarah. It read:

My beloved wife,

News has reached me that you have been taken gravely ill and are in great need of my help. Upon receiving this news, I have given instructions that we should sail, and having good winds, you should see me on the horizon in a few weeks.

My dear and loving, Sarah, I regret the circumstances which have kept us apart, these last few months, and long to see your gentle face. Whatever illness has overtaken you, take great care, and resolve to live for my sake, for God does not require death of thee. Thou art my stonghold and my life, my dear Sarah. Be of strong spirits, and fear not, kind spirit, for know always that my love and thoughts are with thee.

Hear me, dear one, that our time apart has not been in vain, for I have seen many wondrous miracles in distant lands – the ungodly deeds of men who fear not the Almighty hand of the Living God. But, in you, I have found the forgiving grace of God, and shall haste my return to your side, and that of my children. Be brave, beloved, and look for my sails in the horizon. May God be with you, and watch over thee until my return.

I remain your dearest husband,

Gordon.

I sat quietly for a moment, hands holding the aged parchment, pondering the words of Sarah’s husband, and the gentle and loving reassurance that he gave to his dying wife.

As the soft light of morning appeared across the waves, and cast shadows of morning on the glass, I saw a figure of a small woman. Shawl pulled tightly about her frail shoulders, blushed by fever, she was standing in front of the widow’s walk windows, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of her husband’s returning sails. I watched, still bound, as she stood there, silently for a moment, her back toward me, contemplating, then she turned to me and smiling, pointed toward the horizon. I looked in the direction of the apparition’s outstretched arm, and from the far distance, the white sails of a ship came into view, a clipper, just ever so slightly visible, across the waters. A longing smile lingered on the figure’s face as she turned to me, and, placing her long and slender hand on my shoulder, I heard her say the words: “God’s forgiving grace does not require death of thee, for your time apart has not been in vain.”

She turned once more toward the ship, this time a single teardrop appeared on her cheek, as she pointed, one last time, to the advancing sails growing larger now across the horizon. Sarah wanted to live, and for the first time since my return from Nam, nearly thirty years ago, I realized that I, too, wanted to live.

It was then that the figure of the dying Sarah left me, never again to embrace the loving arms of her husband. I sat quietly for awhile; holding Gordon’s letter in my hand, shaking a little, as I fully accepted the feeling of peace which filled my spirit. Sarah’s words of: “God’s forgiving grace”, kept passing through my mind, as a final acceptance materialized. As a Registered Nurse in Vietnam, I did what I had to do, and for that deed, God did not require my death, but offered me a never-ending hope that there is, after wall, some goodness in us all.

As I watched the sails of the ship turn toward Rockport, a new day, full of hope, filled my soul. Picking up the gun, I passed through the main dining-hall, as I had done the morning before, through the spider-webs, and dusty hall. I had not thought of my leaving the villa, but my steps, out of the entranceway, felt lighter and full of joy. I placed the pistol in the middle of the large dining table, and carefully covered it with Gordon Albright’s letter to his wife. “Thank you, Sarah,” I whispered to the old room, with its memories of life and near tragedy. “You gave me my life, and I will never forget you.”

Turning, I once again saw the familiar figure of Sarah Albright, standing tall and proud near the large picture window. This time, with grace of dignity and acceptance, she smiled, nodded quickly to the door, and disappeared into the morning light. I walked to the old pine door and pulled it open, I was filled with a wondrous new understanding of my past, and what my life could mean for the future, having left my guilt behind. I had never forgiven myself for being human, for feeling the pain, which all of us have inside when life is taken without purpose, and without meaning. Sarah, in her pain and longing, made me realize that it is in tragedy that we continue to hope, and find the will to go on. Bravely stepping across the threshold of the villa and into the sunlight, I felt the warm and cleansing rays of joy once again on my face.

Then, closing the door to my past, and finally to my time apart from myself, I took the first steps into God’s forgiving grace.

  恍如隔世

  在那刻起我就知道我再也不能够去爱了,我再也不会去笑,去享受清风或是海边别墅旁的落日了!我也不会生养孩子、不会去爱一个人,更不可能有一个丈夫。连续几周我都不吃不喝,没去上班,也没有理睬任何人。没办法,我的上司放弃了努力,给我发了一道因病遣返的命令,说我得了精神创伤压迫综合症。我根本不在乎,反正我已经不再是个人了。

  当飞机的引擎声逐渐响起,我也从太平洋那边飞回了家,一晃三十年。但有一些梦魇般的情景却留在我的脑海里挥之不去,里面的细节都历历在目,深深地刻在我的心里。在我的脑海里,我看见一小队的送葬者,他们跟在一个小孩的灵柩车后面,灵柩上覆盖着一面美国国旗,上面撒满了从越南乡村采摘来的各色鲜花。灵柩被安置在木轮的平板车上,由上了轭的水牛拉着。我也夹在人群中观望着,没有人认出我来,我只是一个陌生人而已。远远地传来几声钟声,这是对死者的致敬,一种移动的节拍。这时送葬的人群都停了下来,聆听这和谐的赞歌。突然,一个年轻的女子从人群中闪现出来,穿着黑色的衣服,脸上蒙着透明的面罩,问了一个问题:“丧钟到底为谁而敲响呢?”就在这时,一个看不清脸面的人冷不防地拍了拍我的肩膀,回答说:“为你呢!玛格,丧钟是为你而响呢!”

  地平线上升起了早晨的阳光,预告着新的一天的到来,这是簇浅蓝色、深红色和浅粉色混合在一起的光。当微弱的星星还在天空闪烁时,蓝白色的海浪开始拍打着海岸,把晨煦的安静和祥和摔得粉碎。旧煤油灯在寡妇峰的窗口上来回的摇曳着,也把我从梦回越南中拉回到了现实。在这个古老的别墅里,有着悠久的历史和有趣的东西,我也曾经是个世上最快乐的孩子。爷爷在我还在越南的时候就去世了,可他却给了我无数的欢乐。我还记得俩人在这块世外桃源钓鱼的情景。好象起点又回到了终点,我冲动着想在这块寻根地了结自己的余生。我其实早应该回到这个地方,回到这块残留着幸福记忆的地方。

  多年过去了,我在越南的记忆并没有随着时间而消褪,相反,罪恶感永远压在我心头,抹之不去,无法洗脱。一年又一年过去,我回到了美国,一个排斥我的国家。这反而坚定了我自己的想法,我学会了排斥自己。他们完全可以称呼我为“婴儿杀手”,却不知道由于他们的无知,给我带来了多少无形的伤害。多年的痛苦也该来个了断了,就算是我自己的赎罪,假使真的能赎回些什么的话。

  我举起手枪,快速地拉开保险盖,然后很小心地把枪管对准自己的太阳穴。冰凉的钢管顶着我的头,感觉却出奇地放松。我自己都觉得很奇怪,原来这事比自己想象的容易多了。如果不是在镜子里看见自己影子的话,我早就扣动扳机结束自己的痛苦了,因为在镜子里,我看到了自己眼神里的绝望。实在无法忍受下去,我不禁回过头去。就在这时,一张皱巴巴的羊皮纸吸引了我的注意,尽管它是那么地不起眼。它被很小心地塞在墙壁上,夹在褪色的木板中间。这时我听到自己身体里传来一个很小但很温柔的声音,“等一等!”

  我不禁对这羊皮纸产生了浓厚的兴趣,它放得很不是地方,可却藏得很隐蔽。于是我把枪放在柳制桌上的台灯旁边,并把厚木板小心翼翼从墙上拉出来,取出那些污迹斑斑的发黄的信。其中一封引起了我的注意,我些微地把灯提高了一点,读起了戈登?阿尔布莱特船长写给他妻子莎拉的最后一封信。信中写到:

  爱妻如晤:

  卿病重已知悉,且需等吾之照料。闻之旋令返航,帆就好风,数周内即可相见矣。

  萨拉,吾之挚爱,去数月,人阻两地,无从见卿姣容,方寸之间,何其悔也!然纵患何疾,望善处之,将理调息,不为卿但为我,况神主亦无意眷顾。萨拉吾爱,卿实为吾之唯一,请稍强精神,去除他念,卿应知吾身在海上,心已早归,思卿梦卿,如之在侧。

  卿卿吾爱,然此等远行并非无功,荒野之地亦多闻奇事,蛮夷之人行渎神举,而神主不之与罪,待卿则甚之厚且恕也。吾当速归,将晤卿及吾子。卿卿吾爱,切勿软弱如昨,但等吾之归舟。神主与在,当睹卿待吾之归程。

  挚爱卿之夫君,

  戈登

  我静静地坐在那里,手里拿着这封尘封多年的信件,戈登船长的话还在我耳边萦绕,我久久地思索着他对妻子莎拉无尽的温柔与爱意。

  早晨和煦的阳光照耀在波浪上,在窗玻璃上投射出早晨的光芒,我眼前仿佛浮现出一个娇小女人的形象。围巾紧紧的围住了她娇弱的双肩,脸因为发烧而发红,她正在寡妇峰的窗台上张望着,焦急地盼望着见到丈夫回航的影子。我看着她,一动也不敢动。她安安静静地站在那儿,背朝着我,若有所思。然后她扭过头来冲我笑了起来,手指着海平线的方向要我看。我朝着幻影手指的方向看去,在那遥远的地方,一艘白帆印入眼帘。该是一艘快艇,刚刚肉眼可以看见,只见它在水面上行走着。当她回过头来时,一种幸福的笑容浮现在她的脸上。她还把她那修长而又纤弱的手搭在我的肩膀上,只听见她说:“宽容的上帝并不要你的死亡,你不在的时光并没有白费。”

  她再次回过头去望那艘船,这一次一滴泪珠滑落她的脸庞。她最后一次指着那在海岸线上破浪而来逐渐变大的船只。莎拉想活下去!近三十多年来,自从我从越南回来以来,我第一次意识到,我,也想活下去!

  这时候垂死莎拉的幻影才离开了我,她再也不能和她丈夫相爱相拥了。我继续静静地坐着,手里还拿着戈登的信笺,颤抖着,到这时我才真正体会到心灵祥和快乐的感觉。莎拉的话语:“上帝的宽恕之光”,不停地在我的耳边响起,我也终于明白其背后的意义。作为一位派驻越南的随军护士,我做了我该做的。关于那件事,上帝并没有要我以死偿命,而是给了我一个永不终止的希望,那就是我们所有人心中的善念。

  只见那艘船直朝着岩石港驶过来时,新的一天来临了,我的心里也充满了希望。我把枪收好,穿过餐厅,就象我昨天早上来时一样,穿过布满蜘蛛网和灰尘的大厅。我没有想过自己要离开这个别墅,但是在我迈步走出大门口时,却觉得脚步轻快,而且也满心欢喜。我把手枪放在那巨大的餐桌的中间,然后仔细地用戈登船长的那封信把它裹好。“谢谢你,莎拉,”我低声地对这个旧房子说道,在这房子里有太多生命的记忆,也差点酿成悲剧。“是你给了我生命,我会永远记住你的!”

  回过头来,我又一次看见了莎拉那熟悉的身影。只见她骄傲地站立在那扇巨大的落地窗前,微笑着。她显得那么高贵,笑容里还透着宽容的光芒。她朝我点了点头,然后向门口走去并很快消失在晨光中。我走向那扇老松树门,把它拉开。对我的过去我有了一种全新的体验,我也明白了将来的意义,还彻底地抛弃了罪恶感。我以前无法原谅自己,在无辜生命被野蛮夺去时是那么无能为力,我一度感到钻心的疼痛,我们每个人都会被这痛苦困住。可从莎拉身上,从她的痛楚与坚忍中,我认识到希望往往从悲剧中萌发,我们也应该从中获取生命的动力。我勇敢地跨出别墅的门槛,走到阳光底下,我又一次感受到了温暖而又清净的阳光再次照耀在我的脸上。

  然后,我关闭了我过去的那扇门,和我的过去做了一次彻底的了断,我向着上帝宽恕的恩典迈出了第一步。

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