About Her Own Vietnam’s Main Character—
When Della Brown was 22 years old, she had just returned from a hellish year serving as a U.S. Army nurse in a combat hospital in Vietnam. During that time she had learned and lost much. She had made mistakes: errors of judgment, of inexperience. One mistake may have ended the life of a grievously injured soldier. Another cost Della her best friend. Thirty years later, Della was forced to confront those mistakes and find out whether she could learn to forgive: her country, her family, and most of all, herself.
Della is a fictional character in my novel Her Own Vietnam. But her dilemma is real. Many of us have made our own lives more difficult by holding onto grievances and regrets.
Looking back at your 22-year-old self, what would you counsel her about forgiveness?
“I would tell the 22-year-old me that she didn't have to try so hard to be who she wanted, that it was okay that she couldn't survive in New York City, that being an ‘artist’ didn't require anything in particular and that she should forgive herself for making choices that were about what she THOUGHT was right instead of what she felt was right.”
—Andi Cumbo-Floyd, Age 40
“You don't have to be perfect and neither does anyone else.”
—Heather Dorn, Age 37
“Dear Karen, You are going to meet a lot of people you think you want to have sex with. Most of them are not worth the effort of shaving your legs. You will convince yourself you are a free spirit, but you will spend hours agonizing over relationships that never really were relationships, and fretting that you never will have a real one, someone who loves you truly. Let me tell you, Karen, one day you will be loved. You will experience many of the things you dream of, and many things you do not. So spend this time before you find love, singing, writing, reading, dancing, and studying the natural world. Spend time in nature instead of seeking the elusive fantasy of a love that will save you. You're better off using this time to learn to make sushi, throw pottery, or bake pastry, than wasting one minute crying over lovers who never loved you.”
—Karen Lynch, Age 56
—Lidia Yuknavitch, Age 51
“All those years of feeling awful about yourself were bullshit. You weren’t fat, you weren’t stupid, you weren’t ugly, and there were lots of people that really loved and admired you. There will be even more once you stop criticizing yourself so much and therefore are open to people. If you like yourself, it makes it much easier for others to warm up to you. The things that you care about and mean something to you are utterly valid. You’re very smart even though you got the message that this wasn’t true. If you’re the only one who is creative in your immediate sphere, you need to meet others who value this and don’t tell you you’ll never get a job. You don’t have to be with someone who doesn’t treat you well. You’re worth a lot more than that. Flirt, have fun, and bask in your youthfulness. When you meet someone who is going to treat you well, have fun with him or her. But keep doing the other things, too.”
—Bonnie ZoBell, Age 59
“You're worth caring for, and your care is valuable. And don't be so afraid all the time.”
—Beth Couture, Age 34
“There is nothing I could have said to save her from years of anger and blaming. She was not ready to hear the truth about relationships and taking personal responsibility for what she thought and how she behaved. The idea that she had choices about how she perceived herself and the world around her would have been completely foreign. If I had been able to tell her that what her mother taught her about her 'place' in society was all crap she might have gotten a glimpse into a different reality, but she would not have known what to do with it. She wanted to be right. To tell her that being right was not all that important if she also wanted to feel she was loved, would have undermined her foundation. It was her distorted foundation that propelled her forward to over achieve, to be the best, to be above criticism, to care about others, to do the work that needed to be done, to make her own mistakes. Therein, would evolve a new foundation in which forgiveness as her salvation was possible. Forgiveness releases us from the illusions of attack, condemnation, and blame and keeps us focused on love, for if we truly love, there is nothing to forgive. ‘Herein lies the peace of God’ (A Course In Miracles).”
—Merna Holloway, “Now, in the 71st year of my evolution”
“Dear Sheila: He's not worth you.”
—Sheila Squillante, Age 44
“Honestly, I don't think there's much she could hear, but I would keep showing up, being with her, listening and most of all LOVING her until she started to believe the truth that she is loved, she is lovely, that she doesn't need to try so hard - she is enough.”
—Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk, Age 37
“Dump the handsome Irishman who makes you laugh but drinks too much and cheats on you and stay in school until you get your PhD. That nice Jewish boy will always love you, and he'll wait for you to finish yourself and forgive you when you show signs of asshatness. Grab him and hang on even if he isn't gorgeous. Beauty wanes, companionship will not. You're a bit shallow, my love, but I forgive you. No one knows everything at 22, and BTW, you do NOT always have to say exactly what's on your mind. Even if you're usually correct, you're dead right, and that does not endear you to others. Shut up and listen. Learn to be still.”
—Joani Reese, Age 57
“I consider regret a waste of emotional and physical energy. Regret indicates you have not moved on and are not living in the present, or have not learned from your errors. But forgiveness, on the other hand, is extremely important, and for the same reasons. At 22 I was still blaming my relationship with my father for every sadness, heartbreak, ‘failure’ and embarrassment I experienced. Such bullshit. My father was, and is, simply who he is — not my ideal father but a flawed human being, like all of us. (Well, perhaps a level of cruelty that verged on astonishing.) At 22, I was old enough to take full responsibility for my behaviors and emotions, and their consequences. But blaming my father allowed me to avoid that responsibility. I wonder (but do not regret) what decisions I would have made had I understood the freedom that resides in responsibility of self. It's a matter of curiosity now. Too bad that wormhole into one or more lives of my multiverse isn't available.”
—Debra DeBlasi, Age 57
“I would tell that nervous little pony to forgive all those slights— both real and imagined—
because if she's done all her work by the time she's my age now, she's not going to remember them anyway, and because if she doesn't, they're going to settle in her shoulders, neck and gut and give her lots of pain and hold her back from following her dreams. I'd tell her keeping that stuff around and real wastes her time, energy and life.”
—Tracy DeBrincat, Age 54
Lynn Kanter is the author of the novels Her Own Vietnam (2014, Shade Mountain Press), The Mayor of Heaven (1997) and On Lill Street (1992), both published by Third Side Press. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Lost Orchard (SUNY Press), Breaking Up is Hard to Do, and The Time of Our Lives: Women Write on Sex After 40 (both Crossing Press), and the literary journal Verbsap. Her nonfiction has appeared in Referential Magazine and the anthologies Coming Out of Cancer (Seal Press), Testimonies (Alyson Publications) and Confronting Cancer, Constructing Change (Third Side Press).
Lynn is a lifelong activist for feminist and other progressive causes, and has the T-shirts to prove it. Since 1992 Lynn has worked as a writer for the Center for Community Change, a national social justice organization. She lives with her wife in Washington, DC.