“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, through tending-and-befriending others from different cultures (or species), we grow and figure out something important about ourselves. We make sense of our internal struggles when we acknowledge the present struggles of others.
An ally of King was the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who died a few days ago at age 95. Both men invested in peace and nonviolence. Nhat Hanh’s attempts to promote peace through reconciliation between North/South Vietnam failed, but his actions influenced King’s opposition to the Vietnam War. Shortly before his assassination, King nominated Nhat Hanh for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967, although the prize was not awarded that year. King’s summary of his peace buddy is striking: “Thich Nhat Hanh’s ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world [sister]brotherhood, to humanity.”
Ousted from his beloved country, Thich Nhat Hanh lived in exile for decades until finally granted permission to teach in Vietnam in 2005. He only returned permanently in 2018 after suffering from a stroke stealing his ability to speak. In spite of great trauma, an earlier and soft-spoken Nhat Hanh possessed a louder voice than if he spoke through a megaphone: “When another person makes you suffer, it is because [s]he suffers deeply within [her]himself, and [her]his suffering is spilling over. [S]he does not need punishment; [s]he needs help. That’s the message [s]he is sending.”
The world needs mediators like Nhat Hanh who attempted to stop his country’s feuds. However, people are not the only ones to fight over territorial “rights.” While capable of herding fish together with one of the fastest bird-swimming records of 22 miles an hour, Gentoo penguins can become aggressive in feuding over ownership of land (especially involving nesting sites). Agitated penguins open their bills, stretching their neck outward. Some protect their eyes by half-closing them. Do they expect the worst outcome?
Actually, holding a vision of possible peace is really important. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not say he had a nightmare, but he had a dream. Are your eyes half-closed? We become so inundated with our own version of suffering that we forget about our capacities to change systemic flaws.
Name your own definition of holding a presence for peace. There are no perfect words or actions. There is no expectation that you become perfect. Life keeps challenging us with imperfect situations. The pandemic has reinforced the notion that there is no charmed life even if you win several pots of gold in lotteries.
Embrace the wise words of the gentle mediator, Thich Nhat Hanh: “Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”
Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:
50. What is your dream for the future?
51. What peace-present actions will you take today?