While having lunch today at the restaurant located across the street from the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World' drifted through the diner like some soothing, gossamer remnant of times gone by, and I remembered, quite suddenly, quite vividly, watching, as a kid, on video, the scene where the song appears in Good Morning Vietnam. A battle scene, a war scene, with a montage of fighting and explosions, all interwoven with the sensitivity inherent in Robin Williams' expressive eyes as he watches those young American men in trucks go off into battle.
It was the first time I was aware, I think, of juxtaposition, of irony, of two things colliding that created an effect larger and sweeter than the sum of their individual parts. Here you had a gentle song, celebrating the good stuff in life, and it was played over scenes of carnage, clearly the bad stuff in life.
My twelve year old brain didn't get it, couldn't get it. The song was about love; the images were about war. The song didn't fit the images! What the hell was going on?
And now, seventeen years later, I still don't know what the hell's going on, but I can appreciate that scene. At the time, I could barely imagine going to Toronto, let alone Vietnam; and hearing that song again, at twenty-nine, in a cafe in Cambodia, it brought me back. Returned me. To another time, another state of mind. One that seems very long ago, ages ago, and yet, paradoxically, as recent as yesterday, or this morning, or the minute before last. I remember watching that scene in that movie in that place. I remember the emotion it created. I remember the power of it.
What's that old quote? 'It's not that life's too short -- it's that death is so damn long.' Sometimes I can feel the tug and pull of life and at other times, like now, looking back, feeling back, I can recognize that we're here for a blip. One segment in time overlaps another, and some segments are longer than others, but still. In 1987, '88, I was a kid who loved movies, and Good Morning Vietnam was one that I loved. In 2004, '05, I'm a man who loves movies, who just returned from Vietnam. There's some kind of strange, if erratic, symmetry at work there. One that involves an understanding of life gleamed from a silver screen, and another, parallel understanding earned from a life lived in uncertain and hesitant starts and stops.
Sometimes I think it would be nice if life just spread outward, in a straight line. But there are always rings within rings. You can't tell where one starts and finishes. Past and future collide, each reinterpreting the other, with the present acting, in vain, as a deaf and dmb interpreter.
It's all like a stone skipped across water -- determining at what point the stone stopped before moving forward is a fool's game. It dips and bobs and eventually sinks. That's the whole point of throwing a rock across a lake -- to see how far you can hurl it before it succumbs to gravity. To see what kind of waves you can make. To see what type of speed you can get, and what unlikely, transitory pathway makes itself apparent on the surface of the water, before the pattern itself disintegrates, as it must.