Driving into the Santa Cruz mountains at daybreak in November 2018, my heart was tight, my eyes burned, and it was hard to breathe. A bloodshot sun rose red over the smoky coastal range. Two hundred miles to the northeast, the mountain town of Paradise, California was burning out of control in the most destructive wildfire in state history.
I was on my way to lead a weekend retreat on Zen and writing at the Ben Lomond Quaker Center with author and peace activist Maxine Hong Kingston. For almost two decades Maxine and I have made this pilgrimage to be on retreat with veterans and members of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing sangha.
November 11, 2018 commemorated the centennial of World War I, the “war to end all wars.” On this same day, we observed the fourth anniversary of Thich Nhat Hanh’s massive cerebral hemorrhage in Plum Village, France. This year we were also honoring his recent decision to return home to Vietnam and live out his days in Tu Hieu temple, where he was ordained as a novice monk 76 years ago at the age of 16.