Going the Extra Mile

Jack Lawlor

I have many strong memories of Thay, so strong the experiences seem like yesterday. Of course, much of what we learned from Thay was by way of example.

My favorite story about Thay’s teaching by example dates back to 1989, when my young family collectively organized a very active week for Thay in Chicago, involving a Dharma talk for over 1,000 people of all ages at a local Thai Buddhist Temple, and a weekend retreat in a Chicago suburb for about 90 people, including many children. As a precaution, we hired a very personable college-age babysitter to help us with the children’s program. But as the retreat continued, she became so swept up by Thay’s talks that she stopped helping us with the children! So, my wife Laurie missed the retreat’s Five Mindfulness Trainings ceremony on the last day of the retreat and played with the children instead.

When Thay learned what had happened, and how Laurie had missed the ceremony, all while we drove back together from the retreat center to our house, Thay had an idea. We would have a Five Mindfulness Trainings ordination for Laurie at our house that evening, followed by an ice-cream party. This after such a busy week for Thay!

Once home from the retreat, after a rest, Sister Chan Kong, our very young children, our Labrador retriever and me assembled in our modest living room. Thay descended from the bedrooms upstairs, not just in his brown robe, but in his full ceremonial robe! I thought he might do an abbreviated version of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, but he did the entire ceremony, which for me seems to resonate in that room in our modest house to this day. Whenever needed, I can evoke a crystal clear memory of his recitation of the incense offering verse based on that evening together.

As you know, Dharma teachers are very frequently asked to listen, to help, often at inconvenient times. Thay’s example that day of “going the extra mile” after offering the Dharma all week in other settings is for me an accessible lesson on the meaning of love and generosity in our role as Dharma teachers. Thay’s nourishment continued to resonate in our family: Laurie became a Dharma teacher in 2000, and our son and daughter attended Thay’s retreats many times as they grew older and even visited Plum Village. Our local sangha is over 30 years old. One time when we visited our young grandson in California, when he was in first grade, he plopped on the bed, sat upright, and asked, “Can I teach you meditation?” Thay has clearly nourished three generations of our family already, and we and our local sangha very much dwell in an atmosphere of Thay’s love and generosity.