By Judith Toy
Here at Old Path Zendo, the winter wheat is sprouting, reminding us of spring! Just home from the wonderful gathering of over a thousand at Thay's Omega retreat, I feel fresh as the new wheat sprouts surrounding our farm. A shining light of the retreat was the Veterans' reading. About 200 of us bore witness to the intensely personal pain and horror-filled details of war. Supported by Lyn Fine's peaceful presence, the men and women shared from the depth of their suffering what they had been writing all week. Using conscious breathing as our anchor, we listeners felt no separation from the readers.
The first story was read by a nurse in the Vietnam War who described an incident soon after her assignment to the field. That day, before she had even learned triage, a man's brains fell out in her hands. Veteran after veteran shared their stories in bloody detail and intense sorrow. Aware that Thay's own countrymen could not take advantage of such a cleansing retreat, we listened on their behalf.
Midway through the readings, a young monk from Plum Village walked across the room, holding two brilliant red maple leaves. He offered them to the man at the microphone. The Veteran said, "I invited this young monk to sit beside me as I read for two reasons. One, he looks much like a young man whose life I cut short. And, two, he is only the second Vietnamese I have ever touched whom I've not wanted to kill."
Both my brothers fought and killed in Vietnam; I tried to listen faithfully on their behalf. I knew that as the young monk and the older veteran embraced, the boy and the man were one ... and that I, my two brothers, the boy, and the man were one. I thank the veterans who were brave enough to bring forth their pain and show their fragility. Mayall beings achieve true peace.
Judith Toy, True Door of Peace, practices in Old Path Zendo in New Hope, Pennsylvania.