By Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki
During my last tour of America I became part of an experience
that rocked me to my emotional and spiritual core.
I have no idea why it happened
to me rather than an American, only that I was in the right place,
at the right time, and had enough money with me to begin the whole
For a complete understanding
of the event I must go back a little in time. I fell in love with
America on my first visit in 1975 and have remained so. However
until this moment I was never able to understand their antagonism
towards their sons, brothers, husbands, and childhood friends
when they returned from the Vietnam War. Here were young men,
many very young, who had little or no choice but to obey their
drafting into the armed forces though some evaded it by leaving
the country, many more could not. They died in truly terrible
ways, (the Viet Cong were extremely imaginative in their methods
of killing) yet they and those that survived were reviled and
discriminated against when they returned home. Most did not return.
Many have never recovered from the mental wounds they suffered,
as well as the physical. It rankled with me though I understood
that the media and the politicians were mostly to blame.
A few days before I left for
the US I took a few hours off and switched on the afternoon TV.
It was a war film and normally I would have switched channels
but the theme caught my attention. The fight of one man against
the odds to build a memorial to the Vietnam Veterans. It was called
"To Heal a Nation". I hate weepies, but I sat and cried
when at the last, the crowd surged forward to look and touch and
cry over the names of those inscribed on that vast black wall.
It carries every single name of those who died including the women
who are often forgotten.
A few weeks later I was in North
Carolina with Anna Branche, who many of you will remember. When
our double workshop was finished we stayed a few days with our
sponsors, the Directors of Light Haven. Feeling restless I persuaded
my friend Lyrata to go shopping and we ended up in a small and
not very salubrious mall way out of town. In one area there was
something that described itself as an Antiques Mart. Never able
to resist such places I went in and walked up and down the aisles.
It held one of the biggest collections of junk I have seen gathered
into one place, and then I came upon the painting.
For those of you who have not
seen the memorial in Washington, It is a vast semi-circle of jet
black stone, stark and uncompromising with the names of the dead
cut deeply into its polished surface. The painting showed one
part of the wall, some of the names are clearly visible. An elderly
business man has taken off his jacket and flung it over the briefcase
at his feet. One hand is in his pocket, the other supporting his
bent weight is covering the name of his son. The whole figure
is a stark depiction of unbearable grief. A grief too deep to
express, a loss too intense to bear, a man, one of thousands who
had lost a son. We speak often of the sorrow of the Mother, but
that of the Father is equally hard to bear, men also feel, men
Had this been all I might have
stood and wondered, and passed on but it was not all. Reflected
in the shiny surface of the wall, the dead have come close. A
young man, the son, still wearing his helmet with his gun slung
over his shoulder stands with his outstretched hand covering that
of his father. Around him stand or crouch his comrades, an older
man, his sergeant perhaps, places a hand on his shoulder and looks,
as they all do, out of the wall towards the older man. In the
background stands the fainter figure of a young nurse.
I don't know how long I stood
and wept, but finally Lyrata found me and comforted me. "Are
you going to buy it ?" she asked. "Hell no" was
my reply, I am not going to pay $175 to have the heart torn out
of me every time I look at it". So we went back. For the
next twenty-four hours I bored everyone silly with my thoughts
and feelings about the painting. I found that another of Anna's
priestesses, Avizan, had lost a cousin in Vietnam. I picked up
a spy novel to read and it began in Vietnam. I went down to the
TV room, there was a film on about Vietnam. I had not realised
it but it was the anniversary of the shooting at Kent university
when National guards opened fire on students protesting about
the war. Every Newscast was re-hashing the Vietnam struggle. A
politician who had been Secretary of Defence at the time went
on TV to "explain" and to apologise for wrong decisions
being made, (a little late) Newspapers carried Vietnam stories
or heroism and blunders.
The following day I went back
to look at the picture, still trying to avoid what was becoming
a massive compulsion I asked if they would take $150. They said
they would ask. I went back. I dreamt about it, talked about it
and finally when they refused to budge on the price I bought it.
We talked about how I could get it back to England, we had it
packed, the package was so big we couldn't get it into the car
let alone the plane. Finally it went back to Philadelphia by a
parcel service. By now the picture had become a living part of
me and I cannot stay away from it, but still do not understand
why. The answer came in Philadelphia. There were still men who
had not " come home". Their death had been so traumatic
that they had lost themselves in limbo. The antagonism of their
own people whipped to frenzy by the media blocked their way, they
felt unwelcome, unable to return. For some mutilation had been
so great they had been trapped unable to realise that they could
be whole. The picture with its powerful emotions locked into the
image of the wall was a Doorway through which they could all be
brought home to America to rest in peace, honoured and held in
With the help of Anna and S.E.E.D.
we prepared for a ritual on the Sunday night. The painting was
placed in the East and the West was opened to the Boat of Millions
of Years, though I imaged it as a troop carrier, with the Guide
of the Dead in uniform. There were twelve of us, all women as
it happened and I truly believe, as it was meant to be. I took
those names that were clearly visible on the painting and summoned
them and asked them to marshal the men behind them. Then with
prayer and with love we opened the Doorway and called them home.
We laid down a path from the land they had filled with their blood,
across the Pacific Ocean to the shores of America.
The sound at first was faint,
like a distant trumpet, that became the rustling sound of many
people standing up, the metallic sound of weapons being shouldered,
helmets being straightened, and slowly but with gathering strength
the sound of boots marching. Anna called to those whose bodies
had been shattered that they were whole and able to move, then
spontaneously the women began to sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The marching figures responded, this was something they knew and
understood. Across the sea they came in an unending line, no longer
lost but smiling and on their way home. The women laid down a
"Flare Path" of candles from East to West in the Temple
to guide them. The Battle Hymn gave way to Spirituals as they
sang their men folk home. For a while, we all knew what it was
like to shoulder the Vision of Binah, the Great, Unending, Unbearable
Weight of Sorrow. The candles were left burning for three days
and nights and in all that time the men passed along the "Second
Road" guided by the Light.
There is a corollary to the story.
In New Jersey an elderly Greek lady, the mother of a dear friend,
lay in hospital. She complained to her daughter that she had been
kept awake all night by lines of soldiers marching through her
room. She said they all looked very happy and they were singing
...but she hoped they were gone because she could not sleep for
The picture is still with Anna,
it will not leave America, it is part of the nation whose sorrow
it so graphically depicts. That is where it will stay. In July
I will offer it to the Vietnam Veterans' Association, perhaps
to the man who fought so hard to build that Memorial if he is
still alive. If not then I will give it to the actor who brought
his story to the screen with such poignancy.
I still do not fully understand
why that painting was left in a run down antique market, or why
I was the one who came by and could not leave it. Perhaps because
of who the School's contact is, perhaps because it gave me a chance
to experience Binah in a way that will stay with me for ever.
Perhaps it needed to be a non-American who could stand back and
see the Doorway. I only know that together Anna and I and her
group of priestesses obeyed an Inner Plane direction to "bring
the boys home". It has left me with a new understanding of
sorrow, I have grown by the experience and no longer feel anger
at what happened. In a strange way it has cleansed a deep part
of me and filled it with Light.