Jane Fonda: “I’m So Sorry”

Jane Fonda, appearing in Huntington, NY at the Book Revue to promote her book, “Jane Fonda: My Life So Far,” was more than apologetic for her well known mistakes of the past.  But that didn’t stop many (vets?) in the audience from heckling her and holding up signs expressing their disdain for her.  Most of the audience, though, heckled right back at them and admonished them to leave the room.  And the police officers in attendance told Sandy they had “patted them down” and not to worry: “They’re not a threat.”

Still, Jane stood her ground, albeit with arms folded, as if to protect her heart: “The image is what it is… but I’mso sorry” (she answered each of the hecklers and never once ignored or patronized them).  We wondered if she was sorry that she’d been caught in the infamous photograph or if she was sorry for what most Americans perceived as her acting out against America and the proud vets who fought and many who gave their lives in the Vietnam war.

“I’m prepared to say I’m sorry and will do so until I die,” she reiterated with heartfelt intensity.

Sandy: “Please, Jane, let’s clear this up once and for all: tell us exactly what happened so we truly understand your intentions in Vietnam.  After all, if Pope John Paul II went to the cell of his would-be assassin, after having been shot four times, and forgave him, surely we all can forgive you!  Help us to understand.”

Jane was more than enthusiastic in her response, which included expressing many apologies and regrets, talking of Nixon and the war…  She referred to passages of her book, which was obviously a labor of love and very intimately told.

You’ll not find any reference to “Hanoi” much less “Hanoi Jane” in the index of her book, but there is a chapter (Nine) called “Hanoi” that begins the explanation of her actions, which have been so well publicized, and often misunderstood since the ’60s.  This chapter explains her frailty, brought on by bulimia, where she fractured her foot just upon arrival (alone, much to her dismay) to North Vietnam to act as an “eyewitness” for the American people.  Literally a Kimberly Wells (i.e., “China Syndrome“) for her country – she went there to report via the radio and in the print press … “I have come to bear witness, and while I have not planned this, I feel it as a moral imperative,” she writes with great conviction.

She was “filled with emotions — sorrow and guilt at what my government is doing, admiration at the way these people are getting on with their lives, and disbelief.”  Filled with empathy for both sides.  She goes on to tell of her heart-wrenching visits to some of the hospitals there (and we remember her role as the volunteer officer’s wife in the film, “Coming Home” for which she won an Academy Award).

Everything about her evokes memories of her movies.  But what she spoke of on Sunday evening was anything but fiction.  It isn’t until the chapter, “Bamboo,” where she deals with THE EVENT that brought her such notorious fame.  “I do not stop to consider that this will have consequences for me later — especially since I know that other American travelers to Hanoi have spoken on Radio Hanoi.  Some will later accuse me of treason for urging soldiers to desert–something I do not do.”

Asked about her spirituality/religion, she replied, “I was raised an atheist” but answered questions about her newfound Christianity by saying she’d discovered a deep reverence in her life and began filling herself with what she’d known from her culture (Christianity) instead of “filling emptiness with addictions.”

“Christianity has become too identified with judgmentalism, fundamentalism, self-righteousness…” she began, interrupted by a heckler who shouted sarcastically, “Oh, so now you’re speaking for Jesus, too?” …but she countered by joking, “I know… how can I be a Christian and be a feminist?  I truly believe feminism and Christianity fit together just fine.  We must teach men that women are not derivative.”

She spoke with obvious pain in her heart about her father (a la “On Golden Pond“), but with forgiveness and a touch of humor: “There has to be a statute of limitations on blaming your parents.”  But spoke quite candidly about her bulimia when she emphasized, “To be loved, I had to be perfect.  The struggle to be perfect is very toxic” and admitted she’d had a difficult confrontation with her father right there in Huntington in ’53-54 at Lloyd’s Neck that “infected me with the ‘disease to please.’”  She cited the entire reason for writing her book was to “inoculate girls and boys against this ‘disease.’”

“Healing is taking place,” said Jane toward the end of her speech, and emphasized that on her tour, she valued most the responses from the Vietnam vets and said visiting with them meant the most to her and reiterated that she’d apologized to the vets each in person for her actions on that fateful day.

Asked about her stay in France, she said, “You’ve got to live abroad to understand what it means to be an American and how wonderful it is.”

Through the heckling mixed with adoration, she was clearly a woman on the mend, heart and soul, trying to make amends with the American people at the grassroots.  “I’ve got to have hip replacement surgery shortly,” she added quite in passing (just another challenge that lies ahead) and, looking thin and frail, yet still quite beautiful, took the jabs and the jeers with the applause quite gracefully, stating, “I’m strong.  I’m successful.  It’s intimacy that’s difficult.  It wasn’t until I was 60 that I discovered how to have a successful relationship with myself and this is just the beginning.”

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