I’m touched by a small peculiarity within the announcement of the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s death. He died on the 22nd of January in Vietnam. But the announcement was received here in North America on the other side of the international date line, on the 21st of January.
There’s a saying within the intimate way. I am not that. But in truth it is me.
Thich Nhat Hanh has died. And death is to be respected. It is, after all, half of the great mystery we call “life and death,” a term that could just as easily be rendered lifeanddeath. Like the palm and the back of the hand, forever joined.
With an and yet attached.
There’s a mystery in death we all face individually. As we turn toward it time and space begin to collapse. Possibly the first thing we notice is that we all will die. And with that there’s a sort of sympathy, at the very least. But, possibly we glimpse something else, as well.
That palm which is life only obscures the back of the hand, death, for a moment. But there is more than the palm. And on occasion we get to glimpse it. Some great mystery. A mystery where dates crumble, or at least get mixed up.
And, as in this moment, sometimes we get to glimpse it ahead of its happening. The 22nd being announced on the 21st, for instance. A trick of calendars, of course. But also a trick of perspective. A noticing. An opening. And if we’re just a little lucky, this perspective is never fully lost.
As I consider the life and death of this monk who was so important to, well, all of us who walk the dharma way in the West, I find myself enjoying that small joke of dates. Here throwing another layer into the play of rising and falling and rising again.
Today and yesterday.
Palm and back of the hand.
Not one. Not two.
I am not that. But in truth it is me.
Fancy words. Indeed.
But they point. If we’re willing.
They invite. If we’re willing.