My heart just broke. Minutes ago I found out Thich Nhat Hanh is gone. It’s certainly the natural course of life, but it still an unhappy moment when we realize the world is minus someone that’s special to us. And this gentle Vietnamese monk has been special to me almost my entire adult life.
I wish I could remember the full name of the college professor that decided to add Peace is Every Step to our Humanities course. His first name was Luke and he certainly changed my life with that little book. Both from a larger philosophical perspective and a very practical one.
At the time —I was 18 or 19 years old—I had all the patience of the young. So none. Zero. Everything took too long and every car on the road was basically in my way. Now, I certainly cared about other people, but had a touch of Goofy Motor Mania. Incidentally, I first saw that cartoon at defensive driving while getting a speeding ticket dismissed, so there’s that.
Anyway, there were a couple of teachings that helped me, though admittedly not right away. It wasn’t like I read it and instantaneously matured. But I did find myself applying simple things like enjoying the drive for its own sake, without focusing on my destination. And I found myself thinking about the other actual people in the other cars and why they may be driving the way they were. I’d find a better story than just that they were assholes.
Granted, at first those better stories were rather passive aggressive. I’d readily decide that someone cutting me off was probably having an emotional reaction to having just been abandoned by their spouse and losing the dog in the split. But little by little those stories lost the seething rage and transformed into legitimate what-ifs of understanding. I became such a calm driver that my family and friends found it truly bizarre. My mom still thinks it’s funny that when I miss an exit, I just smile and say, “And that’s why God made u-turns.”
Thich Nhat Hanh’s words also inspired me to rethink my degree and later in life, even helped define my professional choices. I’m constantly going back to how we easily sacrifice for future wants (a degree, a car, a career, etc.) but have “difficulty remembering we’re alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.” If you look at the About section, that’s the proverbial bus I talk about. In the end, the only thing we truly have is today. Right now.
And right now, I’m going back to his teachings on dealing with hard emotions, in this case grieving his passing. If I follow his lead and look into why I’m crushed, I can’t help but smile through the tears. Without ever actually meeting this man, I learned to love him, value what he brought to the world, and be grateful for the wonderful ways in which he still touches my life.