Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Love Experiment

Maybe a dozen times in the course of my law career, when I had a case of neighbor suing neighbor, or of neighbor filing criminal charges against neighbor, I suggested that instead of paying my fee to me, they spend a fraction of that sum on groceries, and leave it with a written invitation to seek friendship.

I argued that such an approach comprised a true adventure in human affairs, and would challenge all connected with the people in the case to strive to be more-than-normal.

No one ever accepted the challenge.

I have been charitable in a substantial material way, in the face of hatred, twice. Let me tell you, it was hard!

The really, really, really hard case involved a Vietnamese family I befriended. I spent years being a good friend to the husband, wife and their little girl. Because my wife and I had never had a daughter -- our one daughter, Rachel, died in utero just before the due date -- I came to love their daughter, Lesle, as though she were my own. In addressing me, Lesle formalized my first name by calling me "Mr. Peter." The high point of every week was a telephone call from this little one, who rejoiced at the knowledge that she made her neighbor so happy, by grandly announcing, "MR. PETER, IT'S LESLE!!!," and every time, I was very, very happy.

But the husband, though he always remained a good provider, began to sink into alcoholism and violence. I told my wife that I foresaw the day where we would have to choose sides, and simply because the wife was much more financially dependent and because in Vietnamese society the wife was always expected to be the caretaker of female children, it was clear that we would have to support the wife.

So, while I struggled to maintain my friendship with the husband, I began to put a lot of time into getting the wife ready for independence. Always with the husband's permission, I helped her with her college courses, I helped her study for and acquire her real estate license, when real estate was good. I helped her do an advertizing project for a substantial employer, I gave her a portion of my fee in that project, I provided free legal services to save her from her mortgage, I got her a scholarship to college, I got her a Summer of free babysitting for her daughter at the local Y summer camp.

During this time, the little daughter, Lesle, and I became closer. She needed explanations for the craziness and anger and violence between her parents. I gave her the explanations, and she was more at ease. Oh, my heavens, I loved that little girl, and I still do.

But on the day I acquired for the mother the summer-long summer camp experience for the daughter, a strange thing began to happen: The mother sudden began to hate me! It started as a ripple in the water, but quickly became a tidal wave: I wasn't allowed to use her nickname. I couldn't be alone with her. I couldn't be seen in public with her. (That really hurt.)

Finally, one day, a Vietnamese girl I had never met caught up with me outside a church and warned me that she had been told that Lesle's mother was about to publicly accuse me of trying to get into her pants!!!

Lesle's mother did not know that at the time, for a reason I will not go into now, I was the only potent male on earth who could prove that this was not really possible.

Nonetheless, I was hurt to the bottom of my soul by the news. How could someone do this??????? It was like shooting and killing the police officer who has stood in front of you and taken a bullet for you!!!!!!!

When the mother's American stepfather called me a week later, and complained that his stepdaughter had announced that I was trying to talk my way into her pants, and fired me as his lawyer, I faxed to him the proof that that was not possible.

He was astonished, called me back, and said, "Pete, this is amazing! But this means that T---g is lying!" I said, "I know, but forgive her."

Lesle's mother was enraged that I had been able to prove my innocence. She called me up and yelled at me. Her own mother, in turn, called me up and yelled at me.

Then Lesle's mother accused me to her family of stalking her.

When the grandmother called me up and victoriously announced that there was an accusation against me that I couldn't defend against, I told her, "L--, how could I 'stalk' her? I don't even know where she is living, I don't know her cell number, her home number, her work number. I don't know where she is working. How could I 'stalk' her??????? Additionally, today she has called me 32 times from her unlisted number!!! I will be able to prove this with my cell phone bill. And listen to this phone message!!!" I then played back to her mother a telephone message left about one-half hour before, inviting me to meet with her alone, to discuss some family pictures I had recovered from the trash for the little girl, Lesle, when she grew up.

Lesle's grandmother suddenly grew deathly quiet, as she listened to the recorded message, and quietly hung up.

As these things were happening, it was time for me to make a big decision.

Before Lesle's mother started treating this guy helping her so much with shocking, unexplained raw hatred, I had promised to give her certain amounts of money, to help her to survive this rough period.

She had broken my heart, with her hatred. And I knew that soon she would rip what was left of my heart out of my chest, throw it on the ground, stomp on it and spit on it by taking little Lesle out of my life.

So, I had to choose: Respond to hatred, with hatred, by withholding the money?

Or, be loving in the face of raw, undeserved hatred?

I'm stupid. So, I decided in favor of love.

I found out where Lesle's mother worked, a new nail salon. I put $1,000 cash in an envelope, walked into the nail salon, asked Lesle's mother for a manicure and pedicure, and while she treated me with cold, hate-filled silence, she performed the requested services.

At the end I smiled sadly and gave her the envelope, and left.

About a month later, I dropped off a second envelope with even more money in it. She accepted it without a "thank you," and hated me.

And I went to the chapel and prayed and prayed and prayed that I would still have little Lesle in my life.

We were able to babysit Lesle for several months more, while her mother continued to treat me like smelly rotting garbage. (I was not allowed in her condo, ever, especially with other people there, but even if she wasn't there. I wasn't even allowed to drive into her condo's parking lot!)

Finally, when my wife and I sensed that something very wrong was happening in Lesle's home, and we began to ask questions, her mother became enraged, and took her from us.

The moral of the story is this: Don't look for things to get better for you when you are charitable in the face of evil. Instead, look for things to get worse. You are going to pay, while you are punished for opposing evil with good. You will not be allowed to see the effects of good. You will be reviled, and rejected, I think essentially because the world is a very, very bad place.

I have my favorite Bible quote on my desk in front of me, from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew:

"Foxes have their dens and birds of the sky have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head."

The knife still in my heart tells me that truer words have never been spoken.

But, I am still glad that I did all of that!

Be good.


  1. A sad story, and it can't have been easy to respond the way you did. What motivated them to make these baseless accusations out of the clear blue though? Jealousy that you spent time with their daughter; or some sort of scheme to sue you or blackmail you by threatening to start rumors?

  2. Hi, Phil.

    The Vietnamese girl who met me outside the Church and predicted that the child's mother would accuse me of trying to get into the child's mother's pants explained that I made myself "inconvenient" to the two familes -- the husband's family and the wife's family -- by helping the wife, the child's mother. She said that by helping the wife, I embarrassed the two families, none of whom we helping the wife.

    The Vietnamese girl said that exactly the same thing had happened to her. She and her husband and child lived together. The marriage began to fall apart. The American man who served as their family's "interface" with American society helped the girl and her child, without trying to take sexual advantage of the girl.

    The husband's family and girl's family did not help, but they were jealous. The girl told me that as a consequence her family and her in-laws put enormous pressure on her to falsely accuse the American of trying to get into her pants. She said, "But he hasn't done that! He's a good man!" They said, "It doesn't matter!" The Vietnamese girl told me that she absolutely refused to falsely accuse the American. As a consequencve, neither family had talked to her for two years.

    The girl said, "Mr. Peter, I know Lesle's mother T---g. I am strong. She is weak. She is about to give in to the pressure. I am sure of this. Please forgive her when she hurts you like this."

  3. I am too lazy to research, so I'll just drop the idea and run. Is this a cultural problem?

    Though, they are now 'westerners', I'm sure some of the culture is engrained in them.

    Here they are in various forms of trouble. And here comes this well to do male, bestowing gifts of time/money/services upon the female.

    What on earth could his intentions be???
    So, there she is, in public with stories being told by jealous husband to other peoples of that culture of your very public forward behavior. Now she has to either play the role you have defined for her, as her people see it, and be a harlot, OR, make the big public accusation and clear her name.


    But you'd think there'd be enough westerner in her to 'splain this to you on the side.

  4. Trang became my Second Best Friend. (Rise` has always been my biggest Besr Friend.) Trang has no idea how much I wanted an explanation from her. Her lack of explanation caused me so much pain.

    I am sure that she knew how close I was to Lesle. Yanking Lesle out of my life just about killed me. That, right there, was the really terrible thing she did.

    I didn't really care about the sex accusation. As the story spread like wildfire through the community, some Asian men at Bally's actually walked up to me and CONGRATULATED me!!! (The logic: The infidelity rate in patriarchal Asia is about 80%. Trang is pretty. Therefore, because they believed me to be guilty, they congratulated me. The most respected Asian at Bally's patted me on the back and said, "Mr. Peter, now you are like one of us.")

    There is a lot of facade in Asian circles. Everything is "honor" and "reputation." So, they value the APPEARANCE of "virginity" and "sexual fidelity," among other things, but I think that they frequently really just don't give a darn.

    Americans are simple. We are two layers deep: Guilt-ridden temptation layered over conscience.

    Asians are several layers deep: Temptation, layered over a facade of propriety, layered over drive, layered over conscience.

  5. Because Trang did a great deal of real estate advertizing, after I helped her to get her real estate license, she became "famous" in the Vietnamese community, so that anything involving her, including myself, became much talked about in the Vietnamese community.

    So, a few weeks ago, a Vietnamese girl I know a little bit walked up to me in one of the salons which are my clients and, "out of the blue," said, "Mr. Peter, you should know that not all Vietnamese women are like Trang."

    So, even now, the story is bouncing around in the Vietnamese community.