By Glen Schneider
I first came across A Rose for Your Pocket by Thich Nhat Hanh in a local bookstore. I was a beginning meditator, browsing the shelves, and I read it on the spot. I didn't think any more about the book until it was mentioned at a retreat led by Arnie Kotler, Therese Fitzgerald, and Wendy Johnson. In our small discussion group, Caleb Cushing, my Sangha leader, mentioned that he had followed the teaching and told his mother that he loved her. As he spoke, I thought, "Oh, this is something that people really do."
I was deeply moved by the retreat in many ways, and the teaching about my mother came up again the following Tuesday morning. I woke up thinking about my parents, crying because I had never told them I loved them. My father is 83, an alcoholic, and very hard to reach. My mother is 82. Talking with my wife about my feelings that morning, I said "Well, why don't I go see them today, and tell each of them that I love them."
That afternoon, I took my dad into the woods near their house, to hunt for chanterelle mushrooms. I planned that we would walk to the mushrooms, pick them, and sit under a certain big oak tree where I would tell him. As we walked, my father was very annoying. We were in beautiful nature, but he was not there. His mind raced off into the past and the future after an endless list of this and that. I saw a white butterfly sitting among wild forget-me-nots, but could not get him to see it. And, I was very nervous about how I was going to tell him, feeling him less lovable by the minute. To make things worse, he told me that after we picked mushrooms, we had to stop by Jim's house. Jim is one of my dad's drinking buddies, and I began to get furious, thinking my father had probably trapped me into giving him a ride to get his first drink of the day.
We did find chanterelles and we did sit down under the big oak tree. I was angry and scared and didn't know how I could do it. Finally, as I sensed he was getting ready to get up, I put my hand on his shoulder and, with my voice near tears, said, "Dad, I love you." He reached his hand towards me, and then pulled it back and said, "Of course, we feel the same about you." Then he began to talk about some repair to the house that he was worried about. On the way back to the car, we made small talk. I felt good that I had told him, but very disappointed that he could not really respond. I figured that was it. His friend was not home, so we went back to my parents' house. I figured I would have tea with my mom, and tell her. But my dad decided he would have a cup of tea with us, too-the first time for him. He talked and talked until it was time for me to go. I would have to tell my mother some other time.
As we got up from the table to say good-bye, I gave my mother a hug, as usual, and then turned towards my dad. I didn't know what to do, so I began to put out my hand to shake his. All of a sudden, he spread his arms wide and said, "Let's have a big hug." He had never hugged me before. I was completely dumbfounded. The seeds I had planted that afternoon flowered on the same day. And ever since, my father always hugs me good-bye.
That was in early March. I did tell my mother I loved her soon thereafter and the two of us had a lovely talk. About a month later, my dad and I were having lunch alone, and he started talking about his mother. Out of the blue he said, "One of my big regrets is that I never told my mother I loved her, like you did to me that day in the woods. I felt so great."
And the story continues. For nearly ten years, my family has been talking about organizing an intervention to get my father into alcoholic treatment. Four days ago, twelve family and friends sat down with my father. Each of us read him a heartfelt letter and we all asked him to enter a treatment program. After a few objections, he agreed. We drove him immediately to a residential treatment program, where he has been for five days. On the third day, he told me over the phone, "I guess I am an alcoholic .... We probably should have done this a couple of years ago."
Thay's teaching helped me greatly. My father's response gave me the courage to help organize my family to get him into treatment. I am grateful for the teaching which helped change my life, my father's life, and the life of my family.
Glen Schneider sits with the Pot Luck Sangha in Oakland, California