(My Grandpa & I at one of his properties. He is waiting for us to return back to Laos and build upon this land.)
He took my hand, looked into my eyes and said to follow him. His grip was firm and warm. We were going to walk to the barber shop and get our hair cut. I wasn’t sure exactly where we were going but that didn’t matter. With each step, my grandfather would tell me stories of his neighbors, his community, his work, his passion, his family, his life. I listened intently. For that moment in time, I was fluent in Laotian and understood his every words. It was my first time back to Laos since escaping with my dad, mom and sister over 30 years ago.
The moment was surreal. Here I was, an adult with over 30 years to my name, holding my grandfather’s hand like a toddler, following his every step, listening to his words, feeling his tenderness and love. It was special and I would take every second and lock it in forever. Somehow I knew he felt the same.
His eyes lid up as he reflected on his life. He smiled. He squeezed my hand. He was so happy to finally hold his grandson’s hand. I could feel his jubilant spirit. He had waited all his life to finally have an opportunity to take his grandson for a walk. I imagine that he dreamed of this day countless of time as he endured the solidarity of living in a hole for 13 years.
My grandfather was a soldier of love. He was the Chief of Police and commander of the armed forces when Laos was ruled by the royal family. When the communist overthrew the royal family and took hold of the government and country, mass chaos threatened the lives of millions of people. If you were loyal to the monarchy, your safety was in jeopardy. It was a time for thousands of families to flee the bloodshed and escape the uncertain future. My family were amongst the thousands that escaped to Thailand to seek refuge from the “Killing Fields.” The region was undergoing a drastic change of power. Similar to the Pol Pot regime, those that were not fortunate to escape were tortured and/or killed.
(Grandpa and his children. My lovely Mom is next to him.)
My grandfather did everything he could to save his family and people. He made sure my dad, mom and sister found a safe passage to freedom. He ordered his children to go. He would stay to fight for those who could not fight. He wanted the best for his loved ones even at the expense of his life. My family including my aunts and uncles were able to escape Laos. Because of his compassion for others, my grandfather stayed behind. He would eventually be caught by the rogue regime. He became a prisoner of war. A war he did not choose but a war he believed in. He believed in helping others and treating them with human dignity and respect no matter if they were the enemy.
Due to his stature in the previous regime, my grandfather was tortured and buried alive. He was sentenced to live the remainder of his life in a dirt hole, about 10 feet in the ground, with limited food and water. He was left to die. Miraculously, he did not vanish away. He did not die. He did not let evil get the best of him. He found a way to live and endure the conditions of living in a dirt grave for 13 years.
I still can not phantom how this is possible. How does a man not break after one day in a hole? One week? One month? One year? Somehow, someway, he was able to find a source of life and good that would keep him living. I came to learn that it was the love for his family and his people that kept him going. There was never a day that he doubted that he would never see his wife, his children, his grandchildren and friends again. He knew he would be with them and he fought every day to make sure this would be a reality. His love was strong. His love was conquering.
As our walk continued, I could feel his love. I was so proud to be in his presence, to be able to live a dream, mine and his. I wondered if he thought about this day just like I have many times when I would see a grandfather holding his grandchildren’s hands at a park, at a store, at school and every moment in life. I never did ask him if he thought about this day. There was no need. We both knew this was a special walk for each other. It completed a part of each of our lives. It filled a void beyond expression.
After many turns through the gravel roads, we finally made it to the barber shop. He introduced me to his barber with so much pride. He smiled and laughed with youthful enthusiasm as he shared stories about my mom and how I was like when I was a little kid. I just sat there, nodding my head and taking in the moment. I didn’t say much. My face said it all. I was just so delighted to meet his friend and have the honor to have my hair cut side by side with my grandfather.
(It took an hour to walk to the Barber Shop.)
With the final clip and wash, it was time for us to go back home. I got out of my chair, paid for our hair cuts and headed towards the direction we came from. My grandfather told me to stop. I was confused. I looked at him and shrugged my shoulder. He said home was the other direction. I told him I didn’t understand. I thought we would go back the same route from where we started. He said follow him and I did.
We walked the opposite direction towards the next street which was probably about 200 feet away. I wasn’t quite sure where we were going. I figured he wanted to show me something. Once we hit the street corner, we turned right, down another gravel street. Every street looked exactly the same to me. I had no clue where I was because Laos didn’t have street names. Moments later, we arrived back at my grandfather’s house.
The return walk was only a ten minute walk. It took us nearly an hour, probably more, getting to the barber shop. I stood there, calculating the route and it finally hit me. My grandfather had purposely choose the route less traveled. It was genius of him. At that very moment, I knew how special of a man he was. Sometimes we all need that special walk where time is nonexistence and the ticks of the clocks have no bearings on what we need to experience. On that day, my grandfather gave me a walk to remember.
(My Grandpa standing proudly in front of his home.)
I am writing this story today in honor of the GREATEST MAN I have ever met. I am so blessed to have him as my grandfather. I am more proud of the way he has touched the lives of millions of people. It didn’t matter who you are or what you have done, he was overly loving and compassionate to your needs. My mom told me a story today of how he was able to help his enemies. He was in a position of power. He captured bad guys. Instead of torturing them, he would nourish them. He would help them see that with love, life is good. Many of his enemies would come over to his house and eat with his family as friends. It was poetic justice when he was released from solitary captivity by his enemies because they eventually became his friend and saw him for the man he is. It really touched my heart hearing my mom share this story tonight. He is a man of love. And he will continue to love us all.
Thank you Grandpa for holding my hand and giving me a walk to remember. You are my inspiration. I hope I can live my life as you lived yours. I know you will always be with me. I know you are in a better place and the world is in a better place because of you. May you continue to shine and love in your next life. See you soon! Love you! RIP
(My Grandpa was a well respected figure of his community. He was a hero to many.)