By Thich Nhat Hanh
The cosmos is filled with precious gems.
I want to offer a handful of them to you this morning.
Each moment you are alive is a gem, shining and containing earth and sky, water and clouds.
It needs you to breathe gently for the miracles to be displayed.
Suddenly you hear the birds singing, the pines chanting, see the flowers blooming, the blue sky, the white clouds, the smile and marvelous look of your beloved.
You, the richest person on Earth, who have been going around begging for a living, stop being the destitute child.
Come back and claim your heritage.
We should enjoy our happiness and offer it to everyone.
Cherish this very moment.
Let go of the stream of distress and embrace life fully in your arms.
I am wrong, often. And when I am, I feel terrible about it. But what if something good could come from my errors? What if the world could become a better place? What if I could become a much better person?
When I make a mistake, my first instinct is to feel shame and I want to hide myself. But maybe it’s an opportunity to feel humility and begin to forgive myself. I’m not alone in my wrongful ways. I could forgive someone else. Why not me?
Apologies are next forthcoming. I apologize – usually many times. This is a good lesson in acceptance of our own behavior. We have to be able to put into words what we have done wrong and how we have harmed another person.
Then the next thing I feel is the need to be forgiven by the other person. To ask for and accept forgiveness is a true blessing. It may not be easy but it is certainly necessary.
Making amends is the part that is most often forgotten. Making things right again is hard. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes thought. We think we’re done when we have been forgiven, but we’re not. We need to make restitution. That makes us stronger and more mindful of other people.
Then there is the final lesson to be learned from the entire event. What is the positive thing you learned from your mistake? Don’t let all the time and effort be a waste. Make your life and yourself better for it. Gain something from the experience.
That way you are less likely to allow the same error to occur. You will improve and definitely become wiser.
I’m thinking that with all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, I should be perfect by now! Seriously!
But truthfully, mistakes are going to happen. Make them growth opportunities. Lean into them. Admit to them. Solve them. Be better for them. Learn the lesson.
In these trying times, the TV is constantly telling us what we should fear – closeness, touching, disease, crowds, people, coughs, germs, viruses. These things may be of concern to me, but I’m not really afraid. There are other things that truly frighten me.
Allowing people, especially children, to live in hunger frightens me. People are so damaged physically and psychologically by the effects of poor nutrition or no nutrition. That, in turn, damages our whole world. We all become less by the loss of potential in others. Leaders, teachers, thinkers and artists are lost because of poverty and hunger.
Allowing hate and bigotry to exist frightens me. Judging people unfairly by their religion or skin color is so divisive. Teaching children to hate others is so wicked as to be absolutely sinful. Our world can’t abide any more division and war.
Allowing and participating in greed frightens me. Greed leads to the oppression and subjugation of people. There’s enough for everyone but not enough for everyone’s greed. To meet the needs of someone’s greed, someone else will always have to do without. Hence more poverty and hunger.
Abiding violence frightens me. Our violent selves are our lesser selves and should not be tolerated. What comes of violence is more violence, not peace. And that really scares me.
These are the true dangers of our world, I believe. These are the things we need be aware of and mindful of.
Even while we are quarantined, we can be aware of the needs of others. We can be fair and kind to all people. We can share the wealth with everyone. We can be calm and gentle in all our interactions.
The treatment of the whole world starts with our treatment of every person in our small world. How we act in every little situation will affect the entire universe. We can do healing or harm with every spoken word.
Make every action count. It will become your habit and your character.
Dear Sweetie –
I know you’re busy being an active teenage girl, but I have some words of wisdom for you. I have gained this wisdom through many years of experience and lots of trial and error. I hope to relieve some of your anxiety and give you hope for the future.
Most importantly, know that the difficult times in life are survivable. It may not seem that way now, but only because you have had such a short life and maybe so few hard times. Each success in hurtling a storm will make you more equipped to face the next one. By the time you reach my age, you will be a master and a teacher, and others will look to you for counsel in the stressful times.
Don’t take yourself or anything else for that matter, too seriously. Learn to see the humor in everyday life and you will always have a smile on your face. You will find that humor will get you through a lot of difficult situations.
Always tell the truth. No matter what, tell the truth. It shapes your character for the rest of your life. Make your word and your signature your most solemn promise.
Meet all sorts of people and value diverse relationships. Learn to make and maintain friendships. Some of the people in your life now will remain close to you for the rest of your life. Make good memories.
Try all sorts of interests. Join after-school activities. Take up a musical instrument. Try out for a team. All these things help you discover your strengths and weaknesses – all good knowledge. And they make you a more well-rounded person.
Don’t abuse drugs and alcohol – just don’t!!! They bring you nothing but heartache and will steal your life. They will take everything from you and I do mean everything – your money, your job, your family, your home, your friends, your name, your trust, your health and finally your very life.
Finally, have fun! These are some of the best years of your life – enjoy them. Go to school with a positive attitude. Attend school functions. Spend time with friends and family. Explore hobbies and sports. Keep a journal. Look for ways to share with others. Be goofy.
Have faith in yourself. You will do well and will be successful.
Remember, I will always be here to help you.
Your grown-up self
When my son Ken got married, we were all very excited. It seemed, at the time, like a perfect match. As time progressed, we learned more about Amy and saw more of her true character.
She turned out to be a very hurtful person and we saw odd changes in our son. Amy was also physically abusive to Ken and he showed many signs of an abused spouse. He started to become less than his best self.
When the breakup finally came, our son was a broken man and Amy was blaming me for everything. Ken cried harder than I had ever seen a grown man cry.
He grieved so hard for all his losses, including the two stepsons he had come to love so dearly. He became almost non-functional for a time.
To say I came to hate Amy would be an understatement. Truly I had never had such feelings for any human being in my life. She had damaged my loving son, intentionally with no regrets. I couldn’t believe my negative feelings towards her.
I was going to hurt her with my negative thoughts. Get revenge with my hateful mind. Maybe damage her the way she had damaged my sweet son.
But the person I was hurting the most was me. I couldn’t sleep. I had headaches. My blood pressure was up and I thought about Amy all day. My life was now being taken by her and I was allowing it to happen.
I had to learn to forgive Amy or become a cripple. First step was wishing her no harm. That came with a lot of prayer and the counsel of others. After months of work, I could honestly say I wished her no harm and did not fantasize about her death any longer. (Yes, I had real issues with her!).
Next step was being able to wish her well. That also was very hard. I had to keep visualizing her two boys and wanting the best mother for them. To do that, I had to think of her being her best self.
I don’t know that any of this has changed Amy but I am now able to sleep, have no more headaches and my blood pressure has returned to normal. I don’t think about her anymore, except very rarely. And when I do, I wish her all the best.
I am certainly the better for it.
My Mother always had good advice for me and for others. She would gladly provide advice to anyone who asked for it or pretty much anyone she thought needed it.
She began early in my life with safety recommendations and some common sense things that would work for the rest of my life. Easy things like “One banana is good for you, two bananas are not” or “Never waste food” or “Look both ways before crossing the street”.
Later she got to more important issues involving sex, personal safety, drinking, things like that. She always told me to keep my clothes on and buttoned closed. I was to always keep a quarter in my shoe to call home if I ever needed help.
I was never to go out with any boy who never came to the door to get me for a date. I was not to respond to a honk from a car at the curb. The boy must come in and talk with my parents. In fact, if it was a first date, the boy was required to drive my mother around the block in his car to show he could drive well before he could take me out. And they all did it!
My mother said never trust a boy that did not bring you home on time and did not take you where he said he was going to take you. But point of fact – Gramps brought me home (back to the dorm) four minutes late on our first date in college. That was significant back then. I had to come in four hours earlier the next night as punishment. And look where we are now!
Mom was the greatest decorator and was not afraid to use color or paint anywhere. She said you could have five colors and three patterns in a room. And believe me we did! And it all looked great!
I remember she loved pink, so it was very predominant in our house. Daddy never said a word. Of course, he was color blind.
We had the only pink refrigerator I’ve ever seen. And the cabinets were pink, blue and green, all around the kitchen. You certainly couldn’t nap in her kitchen.
Yes, Mom was fearless with color. She would say, “It’s only paint!”
And she sewed everything we used practically. From clothes to table linens to curtains to slipcovers to pillows. She make almost everything I wore. One year, for some reason, there were numerous school parties and I got a new outfit for each one. When I commented that this seemed too much, she said, “If you have fun in it one time, it’s worth the effort.” How sweet was that to say to a sixth grader!
And that held true for babies also. One good day in an outfit was worth the making of it.
She had good advice for a newly married daughter. Never stop talking to each other, she said to me. And I have found that helpful for fifty-one years.
Mom had lots of good words for us and would often refer to the old standards. But somehow she would get one or two words wrong and yet still get the meaning across. Such as, “A stitch in time saves ten”. It was hilarious and she never knew why we were all laughing.
Mom was a caution and her words of wisdom, correct or a bit revised, helped raise me. They even saved me several times.
I imagine she is still organizing and advising in her corner of Heaven.
Well, the Coronavirus certainly has made itself known and recognized in our world. Events cancelled and/or postponed. Travel stopped. Schools and businesses closed. Vacations extended. People quarantined. A country under a State of National Emergency.
And, of course, the panic buying of emergency goods and stockpiling of all manner of products. It’s all scary stuff! What is a person to do?
First, I refuse to live in fear. I am a person who always sees the glass not only half-full but full to overflowing. No matter what, my world is abundant and full and positive – always. No virus can take that from me.
I’m also going to be cautious, so as not to harm myself or anyone else. I have an obligation to everyone to be sensible and reasonable with my health and theirs. There is no reason to take unnecessary risks that would potentially harm anyone.
Therefore, I will follow standard guidelines and common sense in dealing with this contagious disease, as I have with every other contagious disease I have confronted.
My convenience and whim should not scare or endanger anyone I care about. So I will be thoughtful and caring in my actions. But I will not be afraid.
If someone needs my assistance or help in any way, I am obligated to give aid. Not just if it’s convenient and not just to the point of discomfort. But all the way. I’m supposed to give whatever is needed, for as long as needed, to whoever needs it. Even if it kills me. Hard words to live by.
So I can’t in good conscience do anything that is only for me and leaves my fellow sister or brother out on their own. Such as buying all the water in the store and leaving none for anyone else. It seems selfish to me.
If you have all the water and your neighbor has none, and that neighbor gets sick, are you willing to take water to your neighbor and stay with him until he gets well? Just asking.
These are hard times. We have responsibilities to ourselves, our loved ones and everyone around us. The environment seems to be one of extremes and getting more so. Confusion is all around. Decisions are being made for us, which makes the world feel out of control.
But we can always decide how we react to anything. No one can tell us how to do that. That is entirely up to each of us.
We can always choose to be calm, wise and intentional.
That’s my plan.
I’m going to a funeral today. I don’t want to go but I always go. A funeral is necessary. It’s an ending and a beginning. It’s like a period at the end of a sentence. Final in a way, but also suggesting more to follow.
A funeral is one way to say goodbye. Even if you don’t know the person, which I don’t in this case, you can help the family and friends say farewell. It helps to have the village around you.
A funeral is a good time to remember the person. Grieving is all about remembering and talking about the lost. They should never be forgotten and should be part of the conversation always.
A funeral is a time to grieve for all the lost ones. Every time I attend a funeral I think about my mother, Daddy, my friend Sherry, her husband Paul and all the sweet souls that I miss so much. It’s such an appropriate place and time to mourn for everyone.
A funeral is an organized ritual that provides comfort at a time when everything feels out of control. It soothes the soul, provides stability, and makes sense in a tumultuous period. It may be the only time when you can predict what will happen.
A funeral is a gathering of friends and family that can give you the strength you lack. The clan will back you up and hold you when you most need it. There will be a hand on you at all times, so you will not fall.
A funeral is the best time to cry all you want and need to. You may have to stifle your tears in many other places because it is so inappropriate, but not at the funeral. You can sob until the Kleenex box is empty, if you want, and no one will care.
A funeral is a chance to tell everyone about the lost one. You can provide pictures, video, music, favorite treasures, stories and jokes. Make it as personal and detailed as you want, so all will understand the depth of the life that has ended.
A funeral is a group activity that strengthens the whole village and gives it a common memory. The entire group has a known and agreed-upon way to deal with loss and sadness. The elders hold onto the memories and teach them to the younger ones. This practice keeps the village stable and strong.
Really, a funeral is no small thing. It is a huge thing that can be uncomfortable at times. It makes us face our own mortality, but we are never alone. We do it together. Side by side. Holding each other up.
So today I will go to a funeral with the rest of my village.