Two Teachers

For two of my teachers
I give thanks:

Cao Ngoc Phuong
Khuu Vinh Ngoc Thuy

I first read Phuong’s autobiography
Learning True Love:

How I Learned & Practiced Social Change in Vietnam
When it was published in 1993

I assigned it for years
In a Social Justice course at SLU

The social work majors appreciated her
Phuong was a social worker without an MSW

I wanted the students
To become acquainted with lines like these

“A living example often can have a stronger effect
Than thousands of theoretical teachings and rules”

“What really inspired me was working
In the slums…

Most of the time I went alone
I never felt tired doing this work

It was a joy
To be able to help”

“My dear brother is gone
But his spirit lives on in my heart

And in the hearts of so many of his friends
Who continue his work

From time to time I still say ‘hello’ to him
When I see myself behaving the way he did

It seems that a part of him
Has been reborn in me”

In 2007 a new edition of Learning True Love appeared
Updating her and Thich Nhat Hanh’s return to Vietnam

After four decades of living in exile
Mostly in France


I had Thuy in class
In spring 2006

We meet up several times a year
She often brings me gifts

(Much art hanging on the walls in my home
I received from Thuy)

She has long touched me
With her calm and courage and kindness

She will deny it (predictably)
She will tell me to ask her sister for an alternative point of view

We went out to celebrate her graduation from SLU
She didn’t see why I made such a big deal about it

It was a big deal
Coming to this country at the age of 8

Graduating at 22
With a 3.7

Setting an example
For her younger siblings

She later tutored me some in Vietnamese
And was always so positive

She introduced me
To the intricacies of Vietnamese poetry

She thinks deeply about the meaning
Of this precious life

Thich Nhat Hanh quotes the sutra
“The one contains the all”

When I look deeply at Thuy
I get a glimpse of the vast interbeing

Of the United States people
And the Vietnamese people

Her parents in their 20s
During the war years

Their suffering after the war
Their journey to this country

War and peace
Victory and defeat

Home and exile
Grief and relief

I am
Because Thuy is

For these two teachers
I join my palms

I see the Buddha
In each of them

They live out the Dharma
The way of understanding and love

They are part of my sangha
Bringing harmony and awareness

Thoa and Thuy

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