It was a beautiful red maple leaf day in October of 2014 when around 100 retreatants gathered for the opening of the French Educators Retreat. My friend, Marianne, entered the meditation hall and walked to the front row. She then thought, “Oh, I shouldn’t. Well, maybe it’s okay.” And so she sat down. I sat in the front row of chairs.
That was more than six months before I would begin to support Thay’s vision for Wake Up Schools by volunteering in the Wake Up Schools office for a year. My name is Earleen and along with Yvonne and an intern, Paul, we now support the monastics who are bringing Thay’s dream into reality. But back to the first Francophone educators retreat …
Sr. Jina and Sr. Dao Nghiem prepared themselves to give the opening dharma talk for the retreat. We were all ready.
But then to our mutual surprise, Thich Nhat Hanh entered. We knew he was not well and we did not expect him to be with us. He was not walking in his slow beautiful gait but rather he was being pushed in a wheelchair by his attendant. We realized that Thay had made a huge effort to be with us. We collectively took one deep long breath – following it from the beginning to the end – this was a legendary moment.
I suspect that more than a few tears trickled down some cheeks as he began to talk with us. I believe that everyone there will remember his words, “I am a teacher too.” Well, really he was speaking in French so he said, “Moi-même, je suis enseignant.” The atmosphere in the room immediately shifted. Thay was no longer a separate entity. He was one of us. He is a teacher too. He knows and understands our challenges, suffering and our joys. Such a significant moment of interbeing!
Marianne and everyone else moved to the edge of their cushions to drink in every word he shared with us. My friend … and several others … actually told me that they felt like he was talking directly to them. His voice was different than ever before. As he sat in the wheelchair, his hand and arm gestures were also more noticeable or pronounced than before. He even chuckled. I don’t know if I ever remember such a chuckle. It was a very moving talk. He gave his all for the teachers present. He went straight to the heart of the teachings. Marianne and I could not have been more satisfied with a dharma talk. It was thirty minutes of pure gold.
Since then, as you may know, Thich Nhat Hanh was hospitalized and in a coma for two months. Eventually he began the slow road to recovery. We’ve celebrated each of his successes from the first sip of tea, to the first bite of food, to leaving the hospital. His recovery has been remarkable and now he has spoken some words which, if I remember correctly are, “In ….Out”, “Happy” and “Thank you.” On one hand I quite blithely say to my friends, “What do you think Miracle Man has done now?” On the other hand, I join with fellow practitioners in sending concentrated prayers of healing to Thay as he continues to regain his health. We honor and celebrate his path to recovery.
We also wish to mark the anniversary of the first Francophone educators retreat by posting that very moving dharma talk Thay gave us last year. If you would like, you can watch it now. I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as I do.