Wednesday, July 2, 2008

To Forgive and Be Forgiven

No doubt you have seen the photograph to the left. It is perhaps the most famous photograph taken during the Vietnam War. It is not easy to look at the images seen here. It brings to mind the horrors and innocent lives that are affected by war. However, the story I heard the other day, made me take another look at this photo, and see it in a different light.

This picture, taken in 1972, shows South Vietnamese forces behind injured children as they run down a road near Trang Bang. They had been in a temple when an aerial napalm attack was launched on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. This photo earned a Pulitzer Prize for photographer Nick Ut.

Why am I showing this to you? Is a rant about the horrors of war about to begin? No. I want you to read an essay. I want you to take the time to read the words of the girl in the picture. Look at the photo. She is the one in the center. She is naked, because her clothes were burned off. She is running, because she is terrified. You may have seen this picture before and thought, “Poor girl. I wonder what happened to her.” You are about to find out, but not in my words; in hers.

I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR this week. They have a series called This I Believe. As the essay was introduced, I knew right away what photograph they were talking about. I had seen it many times and turned away. Now, in my truck, I was hearing the actual voice of this little girl, whose name is Kim Phuc who is now 45 years old.

I was moved to tears, as I thought about how petty and spoiled we are. When the boss yells at us, or we can’t park close to the mall, or we are inconvenienced by someone’s lack of professionalism, we think we have problems. We have minor bumps in the road compared to what this little girl went through. How did she make it through? Read the essay. I think you will find inspiration, and maybe a new way of looking at your problems.
By the way, if you would like to hear her read the essay, just go to .

All Things Considered, June 30, 2008 · On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam; I saw an airplane getting lower and then four bombs falling down. I saw fire everywhere around me. Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm. My clothes had been burned off by fire.
I was 9 years old but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way. My picture was taken in that moment on Road No. 1 from Saigon to Phnom Penh. After a soldier gave me some drink and poured water over my body, I lost my consciousness.
Several days after, I realized that I was in the hospital, where I spent 14 months and had 17 operations.
It was a very difficult time for me when I went home from the hospital. Our house was destroyed; we lost everything and we just survived day by day.
Although I suffered from pain, itching and headaches all the time, the long hospital stay made me dream to become a doctor. But my studies were cut short by the local government. They wanted me as a symbol of the state. I could not go to school anymore.
The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times.
I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.
In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons. It didn't happen in a day and it wasn't easy. But I finally got it.
Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.
Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.
If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?

This essay was produced by Anne Penman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. NPR's This I Believe is independently produced by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.

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