Brother Chan Huy sits on the little stand Steven built for him for our weekend retreat. There are more than sixty adults in the meditation hall and six children, ages two years old to fourteen years old.
“Please come here,” Chan Huy motions to the children with a smile. “Please come sit with me.” They gather around him on the stand, wiggling and giggling.
“How are you today?” he asks.
“It snowed!” Julia Kate, who is six years old, informs him enthusiastically.
“Do you call that snow?” Chan Huy grins. “It was so little!”
“But it was snow!” she insists. “I made a snow ball and threw it at Alex!”
“She did!” Alex, the nine year old, says. “And it hit me!” “Well, what did you do?”
“I threw one back!” Alex says, grinning at Julia Kate. “Well,” Chan Huy smiles at the children. “Do you have any questions for me today?”
“I do,” Eliana, a seven year old, says softly. “What is your question, Eliana?”
“I want to know,” she hesitates, then continues, “What do you do when people tease you about your culture?” Chan Huy looks at the child. There is a long moment of silence.
“I’m trying to think of the last time I was teased,” he says, finally. The children sit quietly, looking into his eyes, patiently waiting for him to remember.
After a while Chan Huy says, “I do not remember the last time I was teased. How do the children tease you?” he asks Eliana. She pulls the skin of her Chinese-American eyes back. “Like that,” she whispers. The grown-ups in the audience feel our stomachs tighten.
“What do you do when the children tease you like that?” Chan Huy asks her.
“I try to ignore them,” she says, “But it’s not easy.” “Hmmm.” Chan Huy pauses. Then he asks, “Now that you’ve been at our retreat, what do you think you might do when the children tease you about your culture?”
Eliana thinks for a moment. We grown-ups are thinking, too. What would I do to help this beautiful child? What would I tell her to do? The room is filled with the silence of hearts searching.
Then Eliana says softly, “I think I would sing ‘Breathing In, Breathing Out.’” The grown-ups take a deep breath. Some of us blink back our tears.
“Would you like to sing it now?” Chan Huy asks gently. Eliana nods her head. He takes the lapel mike from his jacket and holds it to her lips. She begins to sing. The grown-ups sing quietly, under the child’s voice, in accompaniment.
Breathing In Breathing Out I am blooming like a flower I am fresh as the dew I am solid as a mountain I am firm as the earth I am free.
Breathing In Breathing out I am water reflecting What is real, what is true And I feel there is space Deep inside of me I am free, I am free I am free.
Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue, practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas. She has owned a summer educational day camp for twenty-two years and helps coordinate and teach the children’s program in her Sangha.
Chan Huy, True Radiance, received the Lamp Transmission in 1994. Coming from a family with four generations of Thay’s students, he lives and guides Sanghas in Montreal, Canada and throughout North America.
Drawing by Shea Lyndsey Griffin, age 10.