Sunday, April 24, 2005

Jane Fonda

No one will tell the story of Jane Fonda better than she tells it. Her life has been one of privilege and searching and now of faith. That is altogether a good life. Along the way, she crossed paths with many other lives great, small, privileged and simply searching too.

When I saw Jane Fonda she was speaking at our university in my hometown. I was a high school ROTC cadet dressed in my Army green watching a tall unadorned woman in her shag haircut looking as if she had just stepped off the set of Klute. Her voice was strong, her convictions firm, and she spoke the truth of what she had seen in Southeast Asia, giving voice to what we all knew even if we did not want to say it, that the war was wrong, that people were dieing for reasons that made no sense, and that it was our responsibility to say no. This speech hit home. I returned to the ROTC class the next day with questions for my instructors, questions they could not answer, did not like, yet could not turn away easily from an earnest if far too young cadet.

Regardless of what others think of her, Hanoi Jane, a traitor, a fool, a shallow actress who did not realize that the same media that made her famous could make her hated, Jane Fonda spoke the truth. In that one moment of her life, she stepped up to her convictions and responsibility. She used her privilege and her wealth and her stardom to go to the heart of the conflict and find the truth for herself. Then she used those same qualities to come home and tell her generation of which she was the first and I was the last, that truth. In that moment, if she was foolish, she was also brave, and if she was believed to be a traitor, she was also believed to be a true American. While I was willing to take that step in my uniform, willing to go, because of Jane Fonda, I knew it was wrong. Because of Jane Fonda and those like her who had a truth to tell, before that time came, the war was over. However else she is viewed, she, the first of my generation, saved the last.

The core of American values is independent initiative. By our own initiative, we set out with whatever strength and position and privilege we have to find the truth as well as it can be obtained by one person. If we have that value, then we also have the strength to tell that truth to others, for it is the moment we share, our place in time and history, and our responsibility is to the others who share that moment. This may not be uniquely American, just merely human. But not all Americans or all humans have the strength to seize that moment and present that truth. Jane Fonda has and did and will.

Thirty years on, long after the bombs have stopped falling on the rice paddies, long after the thump thump thump of the Huey blades have quit sounding there, they sound elsewhere. Whatever it is we learn from our moments, however we share the truths we find in them, another generation from first to last will be born and live out their moments. One wishes they would learn the truths of the generations that have come before them, but often they do not and that is another sad truth my generation learns from the present.

I wish that for this generation, a Jane Fonda would come to their university and tell them a truth, a truth to give them questions to take back to their classrooms, for evidently, there are few answers we can share but we can share our questions.

Thirty years on, as the time comes that it may be my son or my daughter's time to go, I thank Ms. Fonda. Thank you for sharing a truth in a moment and a time long ago, but unfortunately, not so far away. You are American, you are of your generation, and you are one of the best of us. Thank you for sharing your truth. It did not come without cost or hurt, but it was generously given and gratefully acknowledged.

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