Skye Wu ’19
I looked into the mirror, into my pupils that have been muddy blue since I became a teenager.
“I just want….to be wonderful, to be extraordinary….I guess?” I whispered to myself.
Looking at the rejection letter in my hand, I knew that I would never be wonderful. A magazine has rejected my submissions four times in a row claiming that my photographies were too ordinary.
My name is Lucy. I’m average kid in my high school. I loved taking photos of my daily life, everything that was beautiful around me. Well, at least beautiful in my eyes. Not a lot of people appreciate my works. Just my parents and my best friend Heidi, I guess. The popular kids at my school never took a glance at my photos hanging on the wall of the art gallery.
I have always wanted to be popular, to be recognized, to be different, and to be extraordinary. So I tried to fit in the popular groups in my school, who dressed the same way, went to the same parties, and gossiped all the time.
I failed miserably. I had no idea of who I was while hanging out with them. I could not dress like them or talk like them. In comparison to them, I was just an unimportant dust in the vast universe, whom no one wanted to know about. I did not know who I was while hanging with them or who I would become.
Staring at the withering plant in my room, I wondered what the meaning of life is, since every life is doomed to vanish one day. The thought of being forgotten always made me shudder.
One Saturday I was swimming in a pool as usual. Diving in the middle of a lane, I became dizzy and my eyes could not see clearly. I started frantically moving my limbs like a fluttering butterfly, but the water around me just started getting more and more muddy. I was completely blinded. When I struggled to the surface of the water, I realized that I was in a pond with lotus flowers blooming around me.
I was somewhere else, not the pool anymore. The sky above me was vast and deep.
A guy dressed in a dirty camouflage jumpsuit was standing on the shore. “Hey Margaret, stop immersing inside of your own world. It is time to go!” he yelled at me.
Margaret? Who is Margaret? I asked myself. I wonder if I was in a dream.
“Where am I and who are you….umm….who am I?” I asked timidly.
“It is not the right time joking, Marge,” he looked at me seriously, “We are at war.”
War? What war? I panicked. Scanning his outfits and the outdated camera hanging around his neck, I just realized that he was a serious photojournalist at war. This was serious. We were at war.
I time-travelled to a war in the past.
This was Vietnam, 1969. The nation of lotus flowers.
“Hey come on, we gotta go, stop daydreaming,” he exclaimed once again, his irritation beginning to show.
I looked around. The beautiful lotus flowers grew out the the mud but the tender pedals did not get smeared at all. I picked one up and got out the pond.
I followed my partner and we quickly ran to the camp next to the pond. It was a real camp in the real Vietnam war. I was quickly surrounded by exhausted soldiers. I looked around in awe, everything was a mix of earthy green and yellow with heavy dust in the air. A group of soldiers looking eager, were gathering around a radio, trying to catch bits of news from home.
I learnt that my partner’s name was Nick, and we were both photojournalists in the war. I did not know if it was a dream coming true that I finally became a photographer, or it was a nightmare of blood and death.
“We are going into the jungle today,” Nick told me.
Thinking about the Vietnam war, the first thing that popped into my mind was the My Kai Massacre. I could still see the soul-stirring words in my history textbook: “On March 16, 1968, between 347 and 504 unarmed Vietnamese civilians were gunned down by members of the U.S. Army.” A mixed feeling started generating in my mind. Being a part of the war, I could not define war anymore. Good or evil? The decision seemed hard.
I could hear the vague sound of bullets flashing in the jungle even though it was far beyond the camp.
Following a small squad, Nick and I shuttled through the woods. It was extremely hot and dirty. In the moist air, the smell of blood and sweat mixed together. I could even smell the tension and horror of this battle.
Getting into the heart of that jungle, I saw someone lying against a tree. With shock and fear in my mind, we rushed to him. Blood and sweat covered almost his whole face and he was groaning with his teeth clamping together.
He told me that he was a paratrooper and he was waiting for the medical evacuation from the base camp.
Looking at his face, I could see unbearable pain and torture. “We are at war” Nick’s voice was echoing in my ears. However, I did not see despair in his eyes. His eyes did not get smeared by the blood or dust. They were like windows to his heart. I saw hope and the urge of survival in him.
As I pressed the shutter, he whispered “I miss my wife” in a voice that barely could be heard and smiled using all the energy he left.
We left him afterwards for the military medical, I wondered if he survived or not, and I could not get him out of my mind. He was not a war hero, his injury was so ugly and cruel. But the humanity shining in his eyes was extraordinary because of love, care and human connection.
This is life, fragile but strong at the same time, I thought.
There was a fire started burning in my heart.
After getting back to the camp, I suddenly realized that I still had the lotus flower in my bag. It withered a little, but the gloss of the gentle purple did not fade at all. I floated it on the surface of some water. It looked like a small lamp in the night, lighting up the night of terror.
On the next day, we were traveling in a trunk passing a small village.
The village was dead. A dreadful silence filled up the air, all I could hear was the wheels of the trunk rolling on the rocky ground.
In a distance, we suddenly saw a small figure beside the road, grey and lifeless. When we got closer, we realized that it was father holding his child in his arms.
The child was still, very still.
The small eyes were closed tightly. The tiny body did not show any signs of life. He was dead.
Looking at us, the father could barely speak. Through his eyes, I could see anger, sorrow and fear integrating. His shining tears shattered my heart into pieces. Everyone of the soldier beside me took their hat off to express their sorrow.
Nick and I and a couple of soldiers got down the trunk. I suddenly came up with something. I opened my bag, and I saw the shining purple of the lotus.
This beautiful spirit, I brought it with me everywhere.
I gently put the lotus upon the chest of the child. The color of the flower was particularly dazzling, since both the father and the child were covered in thick dirt.
The father was so surprised and he said something in Vietnamese. Our translator on the side told me that he said thank you.
I smiled at the father. He said something again.
“To us, lotus symbolizes the purity, serenity, and optimism. It is the flower of dawn.”
After we left, I could still see the eyes of the father. He must loved his child so much, and he probably already lost his faith in humanity. But I saw the strength of humanity in his smile and tears. Even though dirt has covered his whole body, even though he was just a humble dust in an ugly era, even though his life was entirely destroyed by the war, his golden heart was still glowing under the sun.
The lotus grows in muddy water, but rises above the surface to bloom with remarkable beauty. The flower of dawn, what a beautiful name, I thought.
“That was extraordinary”, I whispered to myself.
The soldier sitting next to me heard me, “what is extraordinary?” he asked with curiosity.
“The father….and the lotus,” I smiled at him, “humanity is amazing, isn’t it?”
He smiled back at me. This soldier has always in my squad, but I have never interacted with him before. I looked at him closely for the first time, and I realized that there were words on the rim of his hat.
WAR IS HELL.
Under the hat, his eyes were smiling. I looked into his eyes.
We did not say anything more. The communication through our eyes were beyond speech.
In a pond of war, there were human beings like the paratrooper, the Vietnamese father, and the soldier, rising from the mud, and blooming with extraordinary beauty of humanity. Their spirits were not tainted by the mud, instead, they shine with purity, serenity, and optimism of life.
I opened my eyes from sleep the next morning, and I saw the familiar ceiling of my room. I became Lucy again, me again.
Vietnam was like a dream to me. Perhaps it was actually a dream.
I saw my camera in the corner of my desk. I picked it up and realized it was covered with dust. I did not touch it at all during the days when I tried to join the popular kids.
But I did not doubt myself anymore. I still do not know who I am or who I will become in the future, but I know that I am a dust in the vast universe, tiny but extraordinary.
I am going to continue my dream of becoming a photographer because there is where my heart belong. I want to capture the sparkling humanity in people’s life and bring more hope to the society. The distraction from the outside might bring me down, but I will always believe in the spirit of lotus, following the voice in my heart and rising from the mud.
I looked at myself in the mirror as usual. I realized that my eyes were clear blue. I remembered that it used to be muddy, perhaps that was because I looked at them in a different way, I guess.
In the school library, I was sitting alone reading a book as usual. A boy sat down at the table next to me, holding the same book. He smiled at me, “it is a good book.”
I looked into his eyes. It was a strange feeling.
“Have we ever met each other? I mean….a long long time ago?”