Musings on Grief and Gratitude in Remembrance of Thich Nhat Hanh
January 28, 2022
Thich Nhat Hanh passed away on January 22 at the age of 95. While I know he has been navigating health issues for the last several years, I still feel an immense grief and loss. At a time when the world feels so divided, it feels especially challenging to lose one of the greatest advocates for love, compassion, and peace.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s passing is deeply personal for me, as I imagine it is for many of his long-time readers and community members. I first discovered his work when I was a sophomore in college. I was struggling with anxiety during this time and lived in a constant cycle of worry that felt impossible to break. On my summers home from college, feeling isolated in Arkansas, I would search for books that helped me grapple with this state of existentialism and loneliness. I discovered his book “Peace Is The Way” by chance in our small-town library. Reading the first few pages filled me with a grounding and peace that I had not yet found anywhere else. This memory lives in me as vividly as if it were yesterday, seared on my heart as a formative moment in my life. I can still picture a young version of myself sitting in my bed on a muggy Arkansas summer, reading his book late at night in my room. Halfway through his book, I remember putting it down and realizing that I had discovered something that resonated with me so deeply that it couldn’t have been a chance that it made its way into my life.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
Since that day, I’ve continued my exploration and study of Buddhist philosophy and have learned so much from Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings. During my hardest days in medical school and residency, when I felt like an outsider pleading for compassion for patients who were navigating domestic violence and substance use, I came back to his teachings to remember that compassion is the most necessary and most vulnerable of actions.
On the days I felt most cynical about the world, I took great solace in knowing that Thich Nhat Hanh, even after all he witnessed in war and the worst of humanity, did not waver in his teaching and commitment to love and compassion for all beings. His books give me the courage to recommit each day to living in a space of mindfulness and presence with everyone I meet. Even though it remains a work in progress, his wisdom has always made it feel the most worthy of journeys.
Learning about Thich Nhat Hanh’s interfaith friendship with Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most beautiful and affirming pieces of history. This story reinforces my belief in the necessity of both community and solidarity, tenets shared by both incredible leaders. When I worry about how challenging it can be to find common ground, I look to them both as models of what has been done before. When I hear cynicism of whether interfaith work is possible, I know in my heart that it has been done before.
I feel the utmost gratitude for Thich Nhat Hanh’s presence in the world and I mourn the loss of his teachings. I hope that in continuing to strive for a life of presence, love, and compassion, I can honor his legacy and pay forward all that I have received from his teachings and wisdom.
Anu Gorukanti (she/hers) is a pediatrician and one of the co-founders of Introspective Spaces.