Some people give off a kind of celestial aura. There’s a narrowed light in their eyes and a settled air about them. They’re in the eye of the storm, that small gentle spot amidst the maelstrom of life. Sometimes you notice it right away and other times it grows on you, a paced but profound epiphany. Ba Nam was the former. When we approached her house she didn’t so much walk as float gracefully across her yard to greet us.
I was in Nam Dinh Province with a young French man who was tracing his family roots in Vietnam. It was a long and complicated path, from old Indochina to present day southern France. I’ll spare the details. Mostly because I could hardly keep track of them. But in a tale that crossed oceans and generations, Ba Nam’s small role stood out for me. She married at 23 to a Vietnamese soldier who died two days later. She was the oldest child and when the rest of her family left for France, she stayed behind to guard the ancestors, as was her duty. She’s remained ever since, watching over her elders and praying for them in that other world.