I was watching a documentary tonight, or perhaps an interview is a more accurate description of what it was. The video had a man in early 90’s glasses, with shaggy long hair, smoking a cigarette telling the story of his time in Vietnam. The story was poignant, well told, and as with all stories of this type- heartbreaking. One metaphor I quite liked was he described his knowledge of the Vietnam war, while he was in the center of it as like trying to play cars with only 27 cards out of the 52. You can only do so well, more so if you weren’t told the rules of the game, that deficit would make it almost impossible for you to understand how the hell to play. He described the fog of information, disinformation, and confusion of the war as such, well that tied with the cognitive dissonance between the war as it was portrayed in the media, and what I can only imagine was the profound dichotomy between the life he knew before Vietnam, and his life there. I can only imagine how the idealistic life of the baby boomers, idyllic existence in the burbs, dates with Suzie Q and football games must have come crashing down when met with the realities of a country torn apart by war, a foreign culture, and an determined enemy.
I couldn’t help but think about how life works the same way. We are given- at best- 27 cards of the deck and told to play. At best we can get a general idea of the game being played, understand some of the rules, and try our best to make a good hand and do well. No one has all 52 cards, and anyone who claims as such is, if you will pardon the pun, bluffing. Honestly, for a huge part of our lives we don’t even get to see our cards, then we’re told how to play but our elders who are equally as ignorant, just hide it better. Then we try our best. We try to make sense of it, try to make our way. And like that young soldier in the field of Vietnam as the calendar pages of ’67 turned to ’68 and were soaked in the blood of both friend and foe, giving a terrifying new definition to “Tet,” we can try to figure out the chaos that reigns around us.
That analogy was illuminating. I liked the imagery it evoked, though for me it didn’t have the hopelessness of the situation in which it was originally used. For the soldier it represented the fear and confusion of the war, because someone was supposed to have all 52 cards, be it Westmoreland or Uncle Ho or LBJ, or even Tricky Dick with his secret plan. But for us in life no one has all 52, so perhaps it’s a bit more level a playing field. Well, hopefully that is.
The question is, then, how to get more cards, and how to play the ones one has best? That the interview didn’t cover, and I’d be weary of any interview that did.