One day during our weekly phone calls, Kin shared the detail that had escaped past conversations, there was a band that greeted him at JFK Airport in 1967, when he arrive as an unacommpanied immigrant teenager from Vietnam.
“Did you say there was a band, at the airport, like a marching band?” I asked incredibly surprised he never mentioned that detail throughout the years.
“Yeah, there was a crowd of people and The Stony Brook Fire Department band. Hank Boerner was there to greet me.” He added.
“Who is Hank Boerner?” I replied.
“He was another Jaycee who helped me get into the country.” Kin said pulling pieces of details that had been imbedded deep inside him like a shard of glass buried into flesh, slowly inching its way to the surface over many years. “He called me once, but we lost touch.”
After we got off the phone, I sensed I had uncovered a hidden gem that would lead me to another discovery. There must be some sort of newspaper article about his arrival if there was a marching band, I thought. I typed into my browser:
‘MONTAGNARD AND JFK AIRPORT AND 1967’
What I found was the keystone that connected Kin’s journey fifty years ago and my current journey. The keystone is the last stone at the top of an archway, set at the top allowing the two trailing arcs to lean into each other, forming a complete arch, a structure worthy of time.
Hank Boerner wrote an Op-Ed piece in 1975, the Newsday paper called, “How LI Welcomed a Montagnard Child in ‘67” where he retells Kin’s story of coming through JFK airport in 1967 to start his education in America. I read the article online and quickly opened another browser and typed:
I located an old landing page with a Gmail address at the bottom. I stopped a said a little prayer, I hope you are still around Hank Boerner. I opened up my personal email account and started typing a letter to Hank. It simply said,
“Hello – Are you the Hank Boerner who wrote an Op-Ed piece in Newsday in 1975?”
The reply came immediately, “Yes, you found me. Now what?” as if he was waiting for this email from me… like we were meant to find each other. Something inside of me felt the same way.
I replied to his email asking if I could call him on the phone to discuss a project I was working on, thinking it would be easier to explain through a conversation, Hank obliged and gave me his phone number. During our initial phone call, Hank share some truly insightful details to Kin’s journey, details Kin didn’t even recall himself. Hank’s jigsaw piece plopped into the open space of an almost completed puzzle, the keystone. He filled in interesting gaps, gave intricate details about personal conversations, the Robert Kennedy and Queen Noor connections, he even provided me with American Airline Public Relations photos documenting the day of Kin’s arrival to JFK Airport, photos Kin has never seen. (photos and white pages can be viewed at www.kinshipmemoir.com) It was at this time I had read about the archetypal themes of The Hero’s journey and started seeing parallels between Joseph Campbell’s, seventeen stages of The Hero’s Journey and Kin’s journey starting to evolve. I thought, This is why Kin’s story resonates with people. It’s archetypal! In Joseph Campbell’s work describing the Hero’s Journey, the character is called on an adventure, meets mentors or helpers, passes through a series of thresholds where the hero descends and raises with eventual resurrection, unification, master of two worlds, freedom to live.
Hanks was one of the undiscovered mentors in Kin’s story. After only a few phone calls, I had felt a comfortable familiarity talking to him, sensing a quiet knowing – that we were destined to meet. I had been receiving validation with synchronicities that were both spiritual and unexplainable since the idea came to write this book. I believe they were messages, guideposts delivered from the universe. Delivery of these signs seemed to accelerate around the storyline of the book and Vietnam. Bolstered by Hank’s Buddha-like, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears” mentoring he expressed to me over the phone, I believed he would continue to be insightful and generous if I asked an off-topic faith-based question during our third phone call.
“Hank, let me ask you something, does Padre Pio mean anything to you?” I had been seeing signs in my personal life that contained Padre Pio, an Italian saint. I’m not Italian, nor have I ever seen so many signs one after another of Padre Pio, it made me very curious with the connection to my life. I wondered if they had anything to do with Hank.
“No, not really.” He replied, “However, I do have a connection with St. Francis of Assisi” as way of explaining his vernation of another Italian saint closely connected to Padre Pio. “When I had troubles in my life, even as a young man, I would pray to St. Francis and ask for help. Each time I prayed to St. Francis a project was handed to me that needed my help or assistance. Usually, the new project was something completely unrelated to the problem I was praying about, something I never considered before. But it would always help me in some way with the current problem.”
I nodded on the other end of the phone and said to myself, Yes, I understand. Thinking about my distressed marriage and the journey into writing, something I had never considered before.
“You see, back in 1967, we hand just moved to the Three Village area from Hempstead when Dr. Turpin came to the Stony Brook School for the presentation, requesting an education for a Montagnard boy. It was my first Jaycees meeting since moving into town. At that time, I was distraught”, he took a deep breath, I sensed his hesitation to dive back into those difficult feelings, “My marriage was crumbling. I had two young children to care for and my first wife wasn’t well. She had mental issues… she was unstable. I had just started a new job with American Airlines. Like I always did since childhood, I prayed to St. Francis for an answer to my problem. You know the prayer.” He started reciting the prayer in his age-old melodic voice while I silently mouthed the verses into the phone.
“Lord may me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.”
Hank continued, “The answer to the prayer came during that presentation. Once again St. Francis gave me a project and that project was getting Kin into the country.” he went on, “So now I’m passing the torch to you. It’s time for you complete the story.” He concluded.
I was awe struck. My head started to swirl in disbelief to the likelihood of finding myself talking to a practical stranger I found over the internet only a few weeks before, who was tied to Kin’s story in a significant way, sharing a common personal story of mental illness and a failing marriage. My body shook with soulful acknowledgment that I just received Grace from the universe. My whole body, even my tonged started to tingle as I managed to say, “I-I can’t believe you just told me that.” Chills ran over the top of my head, tear welled-up in my eyes. “I just can’t believe it.” I said again. There was silence over the line, I took a deep breath and began.
“Hank, my marriage is ending. I haven’t really told anyone; my husband is bi-polar. I haven’t said those words out loud for fear of the next step, of what it will mean for our family. I keep praying for an answer, for help.” I confessed into the phone. “I’ve been pouring myself into this book. It has given me an avenue to direct my thoughts, a temporary release from worry, to be creative with my energy rather than let the fear boil inside my head, it has been my lifeline. I don’t know what to do about my marriage, but I know writing this book is what I am supposed to be doing right now. You just gave me proof of that. Thank you.”
Kin’s story was acting as an instrument of peace for me, the same as it did for Hank fifty year ago. The mentors and the mentees, all swirling in different orbits, at different times brought together by a higher conscience for a purpose, to use our collective humanity to heal. The flash, buzz, click of universal consciences aligned, like an eternal timepiece calibrating ideas and energy for the greatest good. The hammer falls, the bell chimes, the story is shared.
I have to ask myself, what if the idea to write this book was a ripple floating around for fifty years just waiting for a willing conduit? Someone to say, “I’ll do it” and follow through with effort and energy to transmute it into something, an instrument.
What other ripples are reaching out across the water this very moment? Who else is receiving and instrument of peace perhaps from an immigrant child? Who is ignoring the idea or project that was meant to heal them with Devine love because it wasn’t the answer to the specific prayer they were asking for – but something completely different or foreign?
Kinship is a story of an immigrant boy, born on an ant hill in Vietnam. The stone was cast decades ago, the ripples continue to flow.
You are going to be O.K.