Hey, guys, quick, before you miss it -- look up: I'm about to step out onto the ledge here and say something terribly controversial. I'm about to break ranks with my conservative brethren.
Yes, Jane Fonda did some horrible things in Hanoi. Yes, she was a wild child, an hysterical 60's flower-power flouter of the first order. But that doesn't change the fact that she herself may have changed. Whoever the girl was, the grown woman is now someone else entirely -- a mature, thoroughly mellowed 67-year-old grandmother in need of artificial hips.
Try as I might, for the sake of the cause, I cannot dislike her. For despite her faults, she brings one sterling quality to the table which your typical Hollywood socialite does not, and that is substance. Jane Fonda herself is silver-minted. And let's face it: No airhead would have dared perch her derriere atop an enemy anti-air battery just for the sake of publicity.
Whatever we may think of Ms. Fonda's activism in Vietnam, we cannot seriously think she did all of that for attention. If nothing else, we must at least be intellectually and morally honest enough to admit that Jane Fonda, the girl, did the things she did for the same reasons we do -- because she truly, acutely, radically believed. To assert anything less is to do ourselves and our cause a disservice, to say nothing of her and hers.
And if we, some thirty-five years later, still can't get over it, that's our problem. If more of us would do what I'm trying to do in making the effort to look past this woman's tempestuous past -- if we would all just chill out long enough to suspend judgment for five whole minutes and actually listen to what she has to say -- we would happily discover, I believe, that much of what she says has merit. Her words are, at times, even profound. Agree or disagree with her political ideology, embrace or disavow her evolving brand of Christianity, at least Jane Fonda is herself evolving, and is committed to some cause larger than her own. At least she is earnestly searching.
I mean, my God, if the Pope could forgive Mehmet Ali Agca, can't we forgive Jane Fonda?
That said, let me be crystal clear on one point: I do not expect veterans of her crazed, callow crusade to be so magnanimous. I do not expect that all those valiant Vietnam POWs, who were so brutally and viscerally betrayed, can or will or even should forgive her. For them, the injury was and is too deeply personal; for me, it was, and remains to this day, mostly a black and white photograph in a history book.
I was all of nine or ten years old when Ms. Fonda cozied up to the Viet Cong, and being a kid, I was riddled with the same ambivalent impressions of that conflict that all the kids were back then. That did not mean, however, that I expressly condoned what she doing; truthfully, I knew too little about the whole affair to know how I felt. But it did mean that part of me understood and even empathized with what she was trying to do, because -- in the context of that turbulent era, our turbulent era -- she was merely aggressively following the dictates of her conscience, misleading as they were.
What a rabid disciple and proselytizer this woman would make!
And as far as I can see, that's all she's doing now -- following her heart.
At the end of the day, this is what we most need to take away from all this. If we are to achieve any kind of clarity in the midst of this hullabaloo, the one maypole around which we must wrap ourselves is the mortal recognition that people can and do change, especially as they age. They evolve. Only God and truth are unchanging, but we mercurial human beings tend either to develop or regress in terms of our ability to recognize and interpret them.
At least give the lady credit for developing! Okay, so she hasn't fully renounced her stance on Vietnam. But she is clearly inching ever closer toward some sort of healthy, heartfelt finality on the matter. I mean, it's not like she's going backwards. For Ms. Fonda to even embrace Christianity at all, in any capacity, given her starting point, is itself a miracle of beatific proportions.
When I lean back and let myself luxury-cruise right through Jane Fonda's life so far as recounted in countless TV interviews, a remarkable thing occurs. I find I'm not on auto-pilot at all, for then I begin to remember why I bought into this feisty, spunky, energetic lady's charisma in the first place. This is the same allure that led me to buy her leg warmers and workout tapes by the armfuls in the late eighties. I remember why I was drawn to her -- because for one thing, she admitted to having daddy problems (read: authority problems), and for another, she had the good sense to realize that the real reason she was binging and purging was to sate a higher hunger, and, more importantly, the courage to acknowledge it.
Now she says that hunger is being fed, wholly and completely, by the body and blood of Christ. Who are we to say otherwise? It seems to me only Christ Himself can make that call.
In the spirit of Pope John Paul II's passing, we must at least try to give Jane Fonda the benefit of the doubt. Her newly professed faith and our desire to believe in its redemptive power encourage us to take her at her word. For those of us who aren't veterans and weren't mortally wounded by the cavalier acts of her youthful folly, it's time to contemplate letting go.
And besides, I just can't help myself -- I identify with her. Would that I would glide so gracefully into my sunset . . .
Sorry, guys, but I just jumped. For me this story isn't about politics. It's about redemption and rapprochement. No matter what the girl did then, the grown woman, the grandmother, has me in her corner rooting for her now.
Call me crazy, but I'm kinda Fonda Jane.
Karen Hathaway Pittman is a freelance writer and poet whose political commentary is widely featured on the web. You may read her articles and poems online at http://karenhpittman.blogspot.com. She divides her time between New York and Georgia. Contact Karen at email@example.com.
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