“Call me by my true names”

A poem by Thich Nhat Hahn, Vietnamese Zen teacher.

This poem is my response to the sad news of Trayvon Martin’s death, apparently at the hands of a self-appointed vigilante, and to the angry, violent response this horrible event has elicited from some.

Please Call Me by My True Names

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.


1989Thich Nhat Hahn

Yes, I am Trayvon Martin and Troy Davis. But I am also Zimmerman, I am also the policeman who was killed, and his family. I bear full responsibility for all these acts and all these deaths. I must expand to find compassion not only for the victims and their families but also for the perpetrators and theirs.

The Tibetans have so much to teach us in their compassion for the Chinese who overran their country. In the great view of things, they express sorrow that the Chinese have generated such bad karmic fruits for themselves through their violent, hurtful acts.

Only in this great view that comes from the fuller understanding that meditation grows in us can we find the way to have compassion for all these people.

Back to the cushion.

Again and again, back to the cushion.