Dahlonega, GA - 2018-03-29
Brad: I was in Vietnam and, of course, that changes your life.
I didn’t even know why I would lock the door to my bedroom window and sleep on the floor when I got back home. I wasn’t relating it to Vietnam. I was just scared. Put a towel over the window to keep the light out. Had a shotgun under the bed. I used to walk around in my yard on guard duty. It made me feel good. I felt that I was in control of the situation, which I wasn’t.
I had a rage.
I remember being in a bar at noon drinking and having a ghost right beside me, which was the rage. I drank all day and all night. I drove to a bridge and took out an ax and started just chopping into a tree with it. Started throwing my pottery into the damn river. Then I got back in the car and just blew through a barricade, busted out the windshield. I don’t think I wanted to kill myself. I just had a damn rage.
I went home and tried to go to sleep. My wife and I are arguing, you know, “Where the hell have you been all day?” I got my gun out and a sack of shells. She’s begging me. I said, “I’m not going to hurt you or the kids or anything, but I just got to do something.”
I lived in the woods. I’m crawling up the hill just like I was crawling in Vietnam with that damn gun. I come to my child’s rabbit box and the innocence of that just broke me down. I started crying. But, I continued and went on up to the top of the hill and I fired that damn weapon over and over and over.
I thought if I did something like that, my rage would go away. That would be that. No more. That was my ace in the hole, by God. I had to play it. Just firing at the fucking moon and Queen Anne Lace and everything else.
I woke up the next morning, thought it would all be over with. But that rage was still there. I said “Oh, God. I got a problem.”
When you’re trying to crawl out of a dark hole, you only get little glimmers of light in the beginning. One of ‘em for me was when I was sitting on the sofa watching Martin Luther King Sr. answer some questions. The question was, “Do you hate white people?”
Now, they killed his son. They tried to kill his wife and everybody in the church of his. He had known discrimination all his life. And they’re asking him this question. Immediately he replied, “No, I don’t hate white people. Hate is a burden you have to carry on your back like a rucksack. And I don’t have time for that.”
That one got me. That really got me. I didn’t have hate for the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong. I had hate for the government that would send us to such a stupid ass war that was avoidable and morally just wrong.
Another one was when I was watching The Neverending Story, some little movie about this guy who was supposed to save the world. He has this white horse that he rides around. The nothingness had taken over the world. It’s a wonderful name because when you’re down the nothingness has a hold of you. That depression, that keeps you down.
He has to ride this white horse, through this dark gray, black, dead swamp. The horse starts sinking in quicksand. Atreyu is pulling on the horse, trying to get him out, but the horse has given up and sinks into the quicksand and he dies right there.
I’m relating all this to myself. Everybody has purity in ‘em like that horse. I saw that the nothingness was keeping me from shining that out. The nothingness can take over your whole life and you put a bullet in your head.
I went in the direction of the goodness that somewhere was inside of me.
I was always into Buddhist poetry. I actually had a T.S. Elliot book with me in Vietnam.
So, I already had that in me. I always had compassion, even as a kid.
I started getting into meditations. I joined a Buddhist temple down in Atlanta. Tibetans, they were great. That’s when things really changed; when I started meditating and looking at my life and reading books.
BW: I’ve talked to vets with PTSD. It seems like the hardest thing for many to get over is the things that they were asked to do while they were at war. A lot of vets carry that around. That weight . . . I think the weight of that kills people.
Brad: Thich Nhat Hanh told a group of veterans, who are holding onto all this stuff, “You’re still talking about this war. You’ve been done with it for 40 years or so, and you’re still holding onto the guilt of all this. But, there are thousands of people suffering now. What can you do now to help them?”
Let me tell you a story.
I went over to the ice cream parlor years ago to get a cup of coffee. There was probably 30 or so school kids in there. Clearly, I’m not gonna get my coffee, so I turned around to go back to my shop.
There was one little girl that was not eating ice cream. She was sitting on the stool and she put her money into a Humane Society box. I saw that and I walked on out. When they were through with the ice cream, they come across the little side road up in front of my shop walking like little ducks following the teacher.
I went out there to the teacher and I said, “Could you come in my shop for a minute?” She came into my shop. I said, “You see the little girl out there with the baseball cap on?” I said, “I want you to give this pottery vase to her mother.” And I told her what she did. It was a simple act and they went on.
12 years later, the mother walks into my shop and she had tears in her eyes. She started telling this story to me. I had to dig it up out of my head. You know, this went way on back. It was forgotten as soon as it happened.
But she said, “You changed my perception of how I saw my daughter that day.”
Now, for anybody who’s carrying around that stuff from the war on their back, what can you do now? What can you do to help someone? And I didn’t even know I was helping anyone. I was just giving her that small gift.