Last weekend, I got a pedicure – an hour of soaking my feet in warm water, getting them massaged and moisturized, and having my toenails painted. I left with lovely feet. The woman who did the work was from Viet Nam. She came to the United States about twenty years ago, at age 19, speaking no English, leaving behind a war-torn nation, most of her family, and all of her way of life. She was almost too old for school but she went to a high school for a year or two. She told me that there was one boy in her school also from Viet Nam, the only person she could talk to, and he sat with her in the cafeteria. One day, he explained to her how to pull the handle on the red box on the wall, telling her that it was a good thing to do. She did what he said and triggered an alarm, complete with fire trucks and an evacuation. It seemed to me a kind of cruel trick to play on her, but she was still laughing about her innocence and trust all these years later.
One of the scriptures at church the next morning included Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
I listened to the reading and I thought about my beautiful feet, not made that way by any peace-making of my own, but rather the hands of a woman with the courage to leave everything for the promise, only a promise, of a better life, of a place, perhaps, of peace.
Around the corner from my house, our neighbor has erected his annual Halloween display. He is a history professor, and each year, he does a scene more elaborate than the one before. This year he has commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Viet Nam War. He has staged a still life of ghostly soldiers fighting in the jungle, complete with a wrecked helicopter, grass-thatched huts, and a replica of the Wall with an invitation to passers-by to write the names of veterans they want to remember. All this against the backdrop of neat suburban homes….He has no commentary, except a small sign that reads: “What have we learned of war beyond the need to support our troops?"
How beautiful are the feet of those who bring peace. How brave are the lives of those whose set out for a promised land. How loyal are those who sacrifice in the pursuit of freedom, even when that pursuit is complicated and flawed.