Tag Archives: Tet Offensive

Tết Offensive and… being overweight? Thanks for correcting my world-view.

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It’s now been more than a half century since the Viet Cong set about killing everyone they could, men, women, children and babies during the Tết Offensive of 1968.

While studying in Rome half that time ago, I lived at the same residence for priests as a Vietnamese fellow, a devout Catholic who understood and lived the faith and who today is a priest.

It was then that I had already for some years been taking a certain medicine to keep myself alive, a medicine I take to this day for that reason, a medicine which also guarantees weight gain. I had always been thin as a rail, but now I had been putting on the kilos. Because of that, I had given up on jogging around Rome.

Meanwhile, this Vietnamese fellow, named after the great Saint Ambrose, had seen many of his fellow countrymen hunted down and tortured and killed. He knew how to run, not jogging, mind you, but running in the sense of escape. Around trees. Over and up cliffs. Though destruction.

While walking around or sitting at table his fists would be un-clenched, and then ever so slowly, over minutes, crushingly clenched. It was quite notable, but I’m sure it was just second nature to him. It was fearful to watch, as it seemed his tendons would rip away from his bones, or the bones would break under the strain.

I asked him about it. Not quite isometrics, he explained. These exercises had brought him into perfect physical condition through the years. He insisted that I start doing the same, reprimanding me for starting to become overweight. But just as running for him was not about jogging, losing weight had nothing to do with any sense of good health. It was about an immediate ability to get away from fiendish violence. He asked me:

“If you are heavy, how are you going to escape when they come?

He inscaped into his words all the horror of what happened during his own escapes when they would come to kill. He had stories to tell backed up with horrific scars. Underlining this, he then asked:

“If you are heavy, how are you going to help others escape?”

He asked that with the urgency and anguish of one is actively watching people die because of my not being able to help them. This isn’t one of those “eat your vegetables before dessert because don’t you know there are people starving on the other side of the world” platitudinous reprimands. No. Let me repeat that he asked with the urgency and anguish of one who is actively watching people get apprehended and tortured and killed because of my not being able to help them.

“If you are heavy, how are you going to help others escape?”

This was one of those moments when my entire world view was readjusted, when I knew I had been so utterly out of touch with reality.

Thanks, Father Ambrose, for opening my eyes a little bit more.

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I’ll spare you the pictures of the mass graves…

This doubles for natural disasters, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorism near you, by the way…

By the way, thanks to our Vietnam Veterans for winning that weeks long battle.

P.S. For those who say: “Yes, and transform dieting into fasting as a spiritual thing because the body is to be the temple of the Holy Spirit like the saints say!” Fine. All that. Yes. And I confess I am miserable at all that. Can I just blame my medicine? I mean, at least I’m not gaining even if not losing weight. I could do better. To such enthusiasts with spiritual things I say this: Father Ambrose is helping us to escape our half-measures. The Body of Christ is not just the Head of the Body, Jesus, but the rest of us as the members. Being in good shape is not just about respecting God’s creation and God’s redemption of us in Christ Jesus, merely putting the body into submission because that’s a nice thing to do for God, but it is also about the charity we have for one another in Christ Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 9:22-27).

His urgency and anguish was of one who was actively watching people die because of my not being able to help them:

“If you are heavy, how are you going to help others escape?”

Indeed. And so…

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