But now I see. You can sit in a history class for hours on end, and maybe the best of teachers will whet your appetite to learn more. But it’s not until you travel to the site and simulate the experience that your spirit will be transformed.
On our trip to Vietnam, we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels, outside of Ho Chi Minh City. Here the Viet Cong built an underground network over 75 miles long. You can actually walk portions of the narrow tunnels. I don’t have claustrophobia, but I was a little stressed. Yet your imagination goes wild, visualizing the poor American GI’s patrolling above your head.
But for me the most enlightening experience was walking the patrol route of our soldiers. The jungle is humid, dense and close. Visibility: 10 feet, maybe. Every few feet you hear a click and then the tour guide explains the booby trap that you just stumbled into. The opposition did some horrible things with bamboo. Thirty years later, the tension was palpable. If I were a soldier in the 70’s, you bet I would have been drinking or smoking pot. Anything to take the edge off shattered nerves.
Later in the trip we visited the Hanoi Hilton, where John McCain was held prisoner. Whenever he speaks about his experience or speaks out against waterboarding, I get it--now.
Last summer I met a woman who had just come from the Titanic Memorial Cruise on the MS Balmoral. At first I couldn’t understand why anyone would sign up for such a trip. But she had an ancestor on board and had been fascinated by the voyage her whole life. She called herself a Titanic groupie. And there are lots of them. When the ship came to a halt at the site and the band played Nearer My God to Thee, she felt that she was communing with and honoring that family member. It was a totally satisfying and spiritual experience.
Next year, Dallas will have an official commemoration of the tragic death of John F. Kennedy. The Texas School Book Depository has now become a museum “to chronicle President Kennedy’s life, death and legacy,” and the City will add an exposition about the 1960’s in general. For those who still have that nagging question, “Why?” a visit to Dallas might be a way to seek closure.
Sometimes enlightenment comes in the most unconventional of experiences.