THE MUSTARD SEEDS
By Anh Hinh
Kim-Ly flung open the front door and limped to her mother. “Mommy, it hurts so much!” cried Kim-Ly, wailing in agony from being knocked down forcefully by a careless stranger, who was rushing to catch the bus. Kim-Ly had just stepped out of her house and was about to walk her dog, Ni-Ni, when the stranger was running from behind and couldn’t stop in time and shoved her to the ground.
Her mother, Sang, rushed to inspect Kim-Ly. “I am so sorry it hurts. Your knees will be fine in a few days and you will be well enough to walk again,” consoled her mom. Sang gently cleaned the blood from her raw velvety skin on both knees and cradled Kim-Ly and kissed her forehead.
Kim-Ly buried her head into her mom’s arms and continued crying, “That man didn’t even stop or say sorry to me! He is a mean man and I hate him!”
Sang sensed Kim-Ly’s anger and reasoned with her young daughter, “We don’t know him; maybe he wanted to stop to apologize, but he was afraid he would miss the bus. Please try not to be too angry, Kim-Ly. Remember that the feeling of anger can make you suffer even more and we do need to learn to forgive.” Sang pulled Kim-Ly out of her arms and smiled, saying in a playful way with a wink, “That is the Buddha’s Way.” She tickled Kim-Ly and they both giggled in delight.
With her short stature, Kim-Ly can easily be overlooked by tall people and frequently mistaken as a little girl. When strangers ask how old she is, they are usually shocked to hear that she is 11 years old. Her small face and large brown eyes and black bob haircut with bangs made Kim-Ly easily appear as an 8 years old child. However, her outsized personality and tenacity made up for her child-like appearance. She has developed, in a short span of time, a keen sense of right and wrong. Her parents raised her as a strict Buddhist and she would happily attend Sunday school with her friends to learn the Dharma. At the age of 6, she would be able to recite the Noble Eightfold Path, the eight paths of the Buddhist practices to end all sufferings, and would try to practice some of them during school. One day, during recess in Kindergarten, she witnessed a boy steal a chocolate chip cookie from a little girl’s lunch box. Kim-Ly immediately scolded the boy to put the cookie back, but he ignored her. She then walked up to the boy, with her hand on her hip, and admonished him by saying that it was wrong to steal and if he didn’t put it back, Buddha would be mad. The boy looked at her in an odd way, but decided to put the cookie back. Once the boy placed the cookie back in the lunch box, Kim-Ly nodded with satisfaction and said to the boy, ”That’s the Budda’s Way,” and skipped away.
Every night her mother would read to her the Buddha’s teachings and Kim-Ly would listen curiously as she felt a sense of calmness as if the Buddha's words formed a blanket of warmth covering and shielding her. She at a young age, found refuge in the Buddha’s words, a much needed refuge from a sometimes cruel world.
The cruel world first revealed itself when her beloved father died, when Kim-Ly was 8 years old, from a horrific car accident. Kim-Ly loved her father and he doted on her. Every evening he would come home from work and rush up to Kim-Ly’s room with a freshly bought brownie, her favorite dessert. They would each share stories of their day as Kim-Ly messily devoured the brownie. He would discuss his problems at work with her and would even ask for her advice. She loved that he asked her opinions and she would happily go on and on with her childlike advice. She felt so important disseminating advice to her dad, telling her dad that he has to work harder when he was feeling bored at work, that he would have to sit straighter when he complained that his chair is not comfortable and that he needs to tell his boss to stop yelling at him because it hurts his ears. Her dad would just smile and nod in agreement. Her father seemed to understand her temperament the best and has a knack for finding ways to get her to enjoy doing her homework. One day, Kim-Ly felt lazy and didn’t want to practice writing neatly. Her mother sharpened her pencil and scolded her that if she didn't do her homework properly, she would not have enough time to play and take a bath before the night ended. Kim-Ly huffed and puffed and pouted and this went on and on into the late evening. When her father heard the commotion and heard her mother saying that Kim-Ly was “acting up,” her father came over and sat next to her and gently asked why she wasn’t doing her homework properly. She confessed that her homework was boring and she wanted to play with her dolls instead. Her dad laughed out loud as if to break the tension, and announced that he was just like her! He didn’t want to do his work either and wanted to watch TV instead. He, then, made a deal with Kim-Ly. If she spends 30 more minutes to finish her homework neatly, he would finish his work in 30 minutes too and they would meet up and play with dolls and watch TV together. Excitedly, Kim-Ly kissed her dad and shooshed him away so that she could concentrate and finish her homework on time to play with her dad.
When her father died, Kim-Ly cried uncontrollably and had such extreme nightmares that she was afraid to sleep. She told her mom that whenever she tried to sleep she would see her dad's lifeless body lying on the street with blood spilled all over his face. Even with her mom sleeping next to her, she tossed and kicked and cried in the middle of the night until her mom rocked her back to sleep. As days turned to weeks and months, Kim-Ly refused to go to school, refused to play with any friends or neighbors and lost so much weight that her clothes no longer fitted her. No amount of commiseration and pleading from Sang could bring Kim-Ly back to the happy little girl she once was. It was as if Kim-Ly fell deep into a dark spell and the spell became heavier and heavier and was too powerful for a young girl to overcome on her own. Consumed and entrapped in this dark spell, Kim-Ly plunged into the deep world of darkness and suffering for months without salvation.
Stricken by her own sense of grief of losing her husband and by the fear of losing her daughter to such cruel fate, Sang prayed to the Buddha, asking for forgiveness, compassion and wisdom. As she sobbed deep into the night in front of the statue of the calm Buddha, Sang suddenly remembered a famous Buddhist story from childhood called the Parable of the Mustard Seed. In this story, a woman named Kisa Gotami was unwilling to accept the death of her very young son. She would carry his lifeless body all around the village begging everyone for medicine to bring her son back to life. She was directed by one of the neighbors to find the Buddha who was staying not far away. As she arrived to meet the Buddha, she pleaded with Him to bring the son back to life. The Buddha instructed her to return to her village and gather mustard seeds from a family who has never been touched by death. From the mustard seeds, the Buddha promised he would create a medicine to bring her son to life again. Relieved, she rushed back to her village and immediately asked all her neighbors for mustard seeds. All of her neighbors were willing to give her the mustard seeds, but they all told her their households had been touched by death. As the day turned into evening and into night, she still could not find the mustard seeds that she was instructed to collect. She then realized, at last, that death is universal and all humans die and that the world is impermanent, and from this, she attained enlightenment. From that story, Sang remembered the lessons bestowed from her mother that grief and anger will not give the mind the peace it needs. That pain and suffering will be made worse by grief and anger and only by accepting the truth of universal impermanence can one conquer and be free from the trappings of grief and anger.
Incredibly, as Sang told this Parable of Mustard Seed to Kim-Ly, Sang slowly saw a light brighten the dark shadows of Kim-Ly’s face as Kim-Ly seemed to somehow slowly find strength in herself to break free from the spell that had been entrapping her for so long. Kim-ly sat up and nodded to her mom that she understood the meaning of the parable and she hugged her mom tightly as they wept together and promised to help each other break free from this grief and find peace. Kim-Ly slowly regained her energy by feasting on all her favorite dishes that she and her mom cooked. Week after week, she voraciously ate curry pea soup, zucchini dumplings, vegan sausage casseroles, grilled BBQ tofu and red curry ramen. She returned to her normal life of school, homework and playing with her neighbor friends as best as any child can. Yet, there would be times when the dark spell cast its darkness over her and she would suddenly, almost out of nowhere, cry hysterically in vain, calling for her dad to come back and play with her.
One summer after the passing of her father, Kim-Ly was bored of watching TV and wanted to take Ni-Ni for a walk. She pleaded with her mom to allow her to walk the dog independently as her mom was busy getting dinner ready. Sang cautioned Kim-Ly to only walk around one block and return for dinner in 30 minutes. Excitedly, Kim-Ly kissed her mom and rushed off with Ni-Ni in tow. As she stepped outdoors, her senses became overwhelmed by the noise and bustling of the cars and loud people in the city. She had forgotten how she never got used to the smell of car exhausts, the loud shouting of people, the barking dogs, the blaring car horns, and the smell of rotten sewer in the midst of an oppressive hot August. The air was heavy and stale and for a moment she wanted to go back inside to the quietness of her home. But Ni-Ni kept barking excitedly and yanked at the leash as if she wanted to go on an adventure for herself and meet new dog friends. Kim-Ly adored Ni-Ni and couldn’t resist the cuteness of her furry best friend and agreed to walk Ni-Ni around to the open market.
Sang adopted Ni-Ni, a tiny light brown chihuahua, three years ago, as a way to help Kim-Ly cope with the loss of her father. On a warm quiet spring morning, Sang surprised Kim-Ly as she was finishing her breakfast and ever since the dog burst through the front door and jumped into Kim-Ly’s arms, they became fast friends. They would do everything together: they ate breakfast and dinner together, they would watch TV together, and they would run around the house playing hide and seek, with each time Ni-Ni easily sniffing out her best friend. Their favorite pastime was when Kim-Ly would take a bath and Ni-Ni would jump right into the tub too! Kim-Ly had a small container filled very low with bath water for Ni-Ni to go inside and the dog floated around Kim-Ly in the tub like she was the captain of a boat. Kim-Ly owed her recovery partly to the energy and unconditional love of Ni-Ni. One time, when Ni-Ni felt ill from eating spoiled food and vomitted for days, Kim-Ly became so concerned that she too felt sick. For days Kim-Ly had a fever and didn’t have the energy to sit up nor walk, but it wasn’t until she heard the running of NI-Ni to her room and the jubilant licking of her friend that she started to finally feel well!
As Kim-Ly and Ni-Ni turned the corner to the open market, Kim-Ly heard some commotion with a group of shoppers shouting and arguing, raising their fists at the owner. She was too short to see over the crowd of adult bystanders and as the crowd grew more, Kim-Ly and Ni-Ni suddenly felt the crowd encircling and pushing against her and she and Ni-Ni became trapped amongst the large bodies. She tried to push them away with her elbows to give herself room and at first she was successful. She had just enough room to move Ni-Ni out of the way of a large man’s foot. However, as the arguments quickly turned violent with food thrown everywhere and dishes and plates shattering, followed by a blood-curdling scream, Kim-Ly became confused and started to panic. She pushed the man in front of her away, but he resisted and pushed back. She turned to her back and pushed the woman away from her, but the woman resisted and yelled at her. She tried to push to her right and then to her left, but became light-headed as the hot oppressed air languished over her and she felt suffocated. She became overwhelmed with exhaustion and started to fade in and out of consciousness, and as her vision dimmed, she for a brief moment, saw a man’s foot stepping on Ni-Ni’s tiny body. She heard a sharp yelp of pain from Ni-Ni, but then she lost consciousness and collapsed amongst the crowd.
Kim-Ly woke up on the living room sofa with a terrible headache and saw her mom lighting the incense and praying on the altar. She decided to lie still, quietly listening to her mom’s prayers and praying silently along with her. However, as her senses started to return fully and her headache faded, she suddenly realized that Ni-Ni was missing in the background. Normally Ni-Ni would lie on her bed at the corner next to the dining table, but Kim-Ly sat up and searched around for Ni-Ni. As her heart palpitated harder, and her breathing became more shallow, she remembered in a moment’s flash the gruesome image of the man stepping on Ni-Ni and hearing the sharp yelp of pain. She succumbed to the flood of emotions and cried out to her mom and screamed for Ni-Ni to come back to her. Sang raced over to her daughter and held her tightly, rocking her and crying along with her. Sang spent the remainder of the night explaining in detail how Kim-Ly fainted from heat exhaustion when she exerted herself so much trying to push the aduls away in the oppressed heat, how a heavy set man named Minh accidentally stepped on Ni-Ni as he backed away from the violence, and how Minh recognized her and carried her and Ni-Ni to her home.
Kim-Ly’s grief and sadness hung over her and permeated throughout her everyday life, even after a year of mourning Ni-Ni. Sang slowly noticed small changes in Kim-Ly’s demeanor and personality. Sang never saw Kim-ly skip around anymore, but would instead walk slowly with her head down most of the time. Kim-Ly had stopped playing with her dolls and instead took up video games and would spend hours sitting alone in the dark with the computer on. She told her mom she wanted to look older and grew her hair long and left it hanging over her once innocent face. Hidden behind her hair, she wore a face of apathy, with her dull sullen brown eyes averting glances from others, and furrowed brows contorted to an almost scowling look. Sang would notice Kim-Ly’s beautiful smile slowly disappearing and being replaced by smirks and sometimes angry glances at people. One time, when they both went to the clothing store to buy new clothes for Kim-Ly, a favorite pastime for both mother and daughter, Kim-Ly would walk far behind her mother and when her mom looked back, Sang would see that Kim-Ly was staring angrily at others around her with her arms crossed. When Sang asked why she was behaving this way, Kim-Ly replied that she felt angry each time she saw others with their fathers smiling and laughing together. “I hate coming here. I hate these people.” Kim-Ly resented. Her eyes would start welling up and Sang could see her trying to fight back her tears. “I want to go home!” cried Kim-Ly. Sang relented and said that they can buy clothes online instead, and they left the store.
As the dark transformation of Kim-Ly continued, the deep and insufferable gloom and the bitter anger started to take its toll on Kim-Ly's faith in Buddhism. At first, she began to make excuses for not reading or listening to the Buddha’s teachings with her mom. She would complain that she didn't have time because of so much homework and tests, but she would instead, play video games. When Sang caught on to her daughter's lies, Sang admonished Kim-Ly not to lie again and to just tell the truth. As Sang read the Buddha's Dharma to her daughter, Kim-ly would yawn, fidget back and forth, sigh loudly and even doze off. Kim-Ly tried fighting the urge to leave and wanted to sit still, but her mind was so restless that she started feeling agitated and extremely uncomfortable. She felt different sitting in front of the statue of the Buddha. When she was young, she felt a pervasive calmness and warmth as she sat at the altar on her pink flower cushion, but now she can’t help but feel her mind uneasy and her body aching. She started scratching and rubbing her body, massaging and rocking back and forth to relieve the odd feelings, but nothing seemed to work. She then huffed and puffed and when her mom asked what was going on, Kim-Ly settled down and tried to concentrate again. Her mom reminded her to relax and take deeper breaths and meditate instead. For a moment, Kim-Ly was able to calm her nerves and her mind down, but as the minutes ticked away, Kim-Ly started to feel agitated again. She felt hot and almost suffocating sitting there, as if the Buddha’s words were smothering her, instead of calming her. She stretched her legs and her back and rolled her neck, but nothing made her feel calm. She told her mom that she needed to leave and abruptly got up and ran to her room. Moments later, Sang could hear her daughter sobbing and came over to Kim-Ly’s side. “How come you are crying, dear?” gently asked Sang. Kim-Ly harshly replied, ”I don’t know! I just don’t like sitting there anymore. I think it's useless trying to meditate. I think it’s useless listening to the Dharma. I don’t want to do it anymore!” Sang nodded with Kim-Ly as she continued crying, “I want to play with my dad. I want to play with Ni-Ni. I hate my life!” Sang held her daughter closely and consoled, ”I miss your dad and Ni-Ni, too. But we have to go on living the best we can and your dad wouldn’t want to see you like this. He wants you to be happy and go to school and be someone important. And sometimes, the human way of life is difficult and we can get lost in this world. Sometimes we need someone more wiser and compassionate to guide us in this life and help with our sufferings and so we learn the Buddha’s teachings and his way of life to help cope.” At that moment, something angered Kim-Ly so much that she pushed her mom away and unleashed, ”The Buddha doesn’t know me. He doesn’t understand what I am going through. My life is different from his and I don’t care about the Buddha’s way. This is my life and I live how I want. It’s MY way!”
Ever since then, Kim-Ly stopped looking at the Buddha altar each time she walked to and from the front door. Sang had proudly created the altar as the centerpiece in the living room and wanted the altar to represent the focal point of the house and the ever-presence of Buddha in their daily life. Standing at just 6 feet tall and only 4 feet wide, the altar was resplendently arranged with many bouquets of bright pink, crimson red and golden yellow flowers. Sang had humbly placed a large golden statue of the Buddha sitting on a red tapestry in the center, adorned with white lotus flowers and surrounded with red ribbons and tassels. On the second shelf of the altar contained varieties of Buddha Sutras neatly organized. In the background of this shelf, Sang placed photos of different ancestors throughout many generations. A golden incense holder in the shape of a lotus was placed in the center and everyday, the fragrant smell of burning incense was a reminder that living the right life could cleanse the mind and soul. On the third shelf, she would have many candies, plates full of fresh colorful fruits, and cookies placed for offerings to the many ancestors. Kim-Ly loved that the cookies were placed so low for her when she was a toddler, that she would sneak one or two cookies in her pocket. Sang would see this and shook her head, but giggled out loud. The altar was central to Sang’s life. However, when she realized Kim-Ly no longer bowed her head down and acknowledged the statue of the Buddha, Sang felt helpless, at seeing her daughter’s anger growing deeper and at witnessing the complete loss of her innocence. Sang tried on many occasions to convince Kim-Ly that she needed to not be angry with her life, and that suffering is part of being human and to come back to finding peace with the Buddha’s teaching. But, each time, Kim-Ly would refuse.
As the months turned into years, the dark insufferable gloom was so unbearable that Kim-Ly desperately sought a different change in her life. Now at 18 years old, Kim-Ly was planning to leave her old life behind: her home, her city, her mom and Buddha. She felt that in order for her to start a new life, she had to abandon her old life and the memories it carried behind. She told her mom that she found a job as a receptionist at a large hospital 4 hours away and will start in one month. At first, Sang pleaded for her not to leave as Kim-Ly will be alone and may need her mom or others to help. Then Sang tried to reason with her that if she leaves, then Sang could come with her, too. However, Kim-Ly desperately wanted to break away from her old mold and be alone to deal with the world in her own way and felt that her mom would just remind her too much of her childhood. Finally, Sang, seeing that she was holding Kim-Ly back and only wanted her daughter to be happy, sadly relented and agreed to her daughter's wishes. Sang helped Kim-Ly pack a few days before her departure, but Kim-Ly decided to pack very lightly, leaving most clothes and items behind, as she believed that they would remind her of her old life.
The early summer morning of her departure, Kim-Ly hadn’t felt this excited for years. She had planned this day for weeks and finally as the time arrived to leave, she comforted her mom, ”Please don’t be sad. I will make you and dad proud, you will see.” Sang wiped her tears and nodded, “I am proud of you. Go out there and discover yourself, discover the world, but don’t forget to come home to me.” They kissed and hugged each other tightly and as she walked to the front door to open it, she sheepishly glanced at the statue of Buddha, but quickly closed the door.
When she finally arrived at her apartment, she placed her suitcase down and inspected the place. It was a small old studio with white cracked walls and a tan carpet littered with stains and holes throughout the living room. A yellow flower sofa with brown stains that was left in the living room for her by the previous owner was the focus of the living room. The kitchen had a stale smell and was so tiny that a small refrigerator looked out of proportion and there was no room for a dining table or chairs. The vinyl flooring of the kitchen had geometric patterns with missing pieces covered with dirt and old gums in between the grout. She noted that the bedroom was on the other side of the wall of the kitchen and that the tan carpet littered with stains and holes continued into the bedroom. The twin bed with brightly colored polka dot sheets and matching blanket looked very uninviting and out of place against the dull cracked walls. Kim-Ly hesitantly stepped into the bathroom and was immediately repulsed by the smell of old mildew and the sight of the yellow stained toilet. As she left the bathroom quickly and continued to survey the old studio, she sensed a melancholic emptiness and an indescribable feeling of eeriness crawling onto her skin and settling deep inside her bones. Inside the studio, the air felt heavy and peculiar to her nose, an almost inexplicable odor of malevolence permeated and languished through the cracked walls. She ended her inspection standing next to the stained sofa in the living room, wondering to herself why she felt cold and felt chills down her neck when the air conditioner was not even turned on and the summer afternoon heat was intense outside.
As night fell, Kim-Ly lay uncomfortably on the bed, restlessly tossing and turning, finding herself unable to close her eyes. As the cloud of malevolent air surrounded and intoxicated her mind, it beckoned a dark energy from within her in forms of nightmares and immoral thoughts. Night after night, she would vividly see in her nightmares, Ni-Ni mangled body, twisted and deformed with her eyes rolled back and blood dripping out of her mouth. She would see herself slumped over, crying, as goblin-like men were laughing and pointing their fingers at her. She would wake up from her terrifying nightmares, sweating and crying, wondering out loud how life is so cruel as to take away her best friend and her father. She never could accept the death of Ni-Ni, an innocent life taken right in front of her eyes and how she felt responsible for Ni-Ni’s death. Thinking back, she felt upset that she didn’t bury Ni-Ni, she didn’t even give her a proper burial, but instead had her mom dispose of Ni-Ni’s body at the veterinary clinic. The more she thought about Ni-Ni’s death, the more Kim-Ly felt injustice towards her best friend and the urge to avenge Ni-Ni’s death grew stronger. This wrath consumed her mind with evil thoughts of harming Minh, the man that accidentally stepped on Ni-Ni to death. She obsessively imagined inflicting pain on him and plotting ways for her to permanently injure Minh’s leg with a knife, so that he won’t step on any small animals again. She felt odd that she never had these immoral thoughts before, but, nonetheless, she felt a sense of contentment, almost an enjoyment, thinking about avenging Ni-Ni’s death. She believed and convinced herself that she would betray Ni-Ni and herself, and that Ni-Ni’s soul wouldn't rest in peace, until she punished Minh. Only then, she thought, would she find peace in herself. This soon became her priority and purpose in life.
One quiet morning, as she was gathering more patients' charts for her job in the hospital, she came across someone’s name that made her immediately froze. She narrowed her eyes and then rubbed them to make sure she was not hallucinating, but in front of the chart that she was holding, had the name “Minh Tran.” She even pronounced the name out loud just to make sure she wasn’t imagining words in her head. She quickly opened the chart to verify if he was the same man, and sure enough, she recognized his photo and address immediately. She clenched his chart tightly, as if she had him in her hands and decided to flip through his chart and discovered that he was staying in room A124.
She knew she had to quickly take advantage of such good luck, and so after work ended, she rushed around the large hospital until she found his room. As she approached his room, she saw that the door was opened and that there was a privacy curtain around his bed. Her heart was racing and her breaths were shallow, and even though she yearned so long for this moment to come, she didn’t know exactly what to say or do. Immobilized by fear, but blinded by anger, she stood there wanting to yell and curse at him, but nothing came out of her mouth. As she walked slowly towards his bed with her fist clenched and her eyes narrowed on her victim, she accidentally bumped into a small table that protruded behind the privacy curtain. It made a sharp clattering noise as there were dishes of food on that table. Then suddenly, she heard on the other side of the curtain, a frail, but familiar voice, ”Who is there?” The voice caught Kim-Ly off guard, but Kim-Ly instinctively responded, ”I am sorry to bother you. I went to the wrong room.” The man’s voice responded with a solemn tone, “Don't be sorry at all. I am glad someone came here because I haven’t had any visitors for a month now. Can you talk with me for a while?” Surprised by his request, she meekly responded, “Yes.” She gathered the courage to come closer to him and as she pulled the curtain away, she was stunned to see a ghastly thin, frail man with sunken dull eyes lying helplessly. As she came closer to him, she could barely recognize that the man was Minh, and only by remembering that he had a tattoo of an eagle on the right side of his neck would she then believe that this person was indeed Minh. She was taken aback by his deteriorating appearance; she remembered that he was a heavy set man with an unkept beard and tattoos all around his arms and body. He had, sometimes, a menacing look on his face and as a child she was very intimidated by his presence. Now as she inspected him, he looked so vulnerable and sickly that she actually felt sorry for him. She tried to be angry at him, but she lost all the feelings of revenge and any desire to inflict pain. She felt, instead, great sadness towards him and an urge to commiserate with him. She sat down next to Minh and revealed to him who she was. She talked in detail for a very long time, explaining and describing her journey here and how she missed Ni-Ni and felt responsible for her death. As she shared her story to Minh, she sobbed and felt ashamed that she wanted to hurt him in the first place. Minh had been in the hospital for one month and was dying of cancer. Minh’s eyes welled up as he shared with her how he regretted accidentally stepping on Ni-Ni and that he sincerely felt guilty that he killed her. He knew how much Ni-Ni meant to Kim-Ly, but he revealed that he never had the courage to apologize to her in person. He felt ashamed and hated himself for this. However, he told her that he was so happy and relieved to see her now, that this must be a good omen, and he begged Kim-Ly for forgiveness. The thought of forgiving Minh never occurred to her, as she only saw him as a killer. She never accepted the death of Ni-Ni, so how could she even forgive the killer? She sat there and didn’t respond to Minh. As Kim-Ly sat silently, Minh smiled and said,”I understand if you don’t forgive me. I might not forgive someone too if he hurt or killed my loved one. I hope you could find compassion in your heart to one day accept this old man's apology.”
He then turned his face away from her and said that he didn’t want to inconvenience or trouble her anymore and he sincerely wished her a good life. Kim-Ly continued sitting next to Minh, realizing she was searching all along, in vain, for her own mustard seeds to bring Ni-Ni back to life. Even though she could not find the mustard seeds, she continued to refuse to accept Ni-Ni's death and the truth of impermanence, and instead of finding enlightenment like Kisa Gotami, she lived and stayed in a world of anger and hatred. She felt that she had already let go of her dad and accepted his death, but to ask a young girl to accept another death was unfair and unbearable to her. Now she realized Kisa's struggle to find the mustard seeds is actually the struggle that the soul has to go through to move towards the path of enlightenment. At this moment in time, she purified her mind and broke free of her anger, resentment and grief. She no longer wanted to give power to anger and finally accepted the death of Ni-Ni.
When she came to realize her own enlightenment, she quickly sat up and pronounced to Minh that she forgave him. He slowly turned around, cried, and thanked her, saying that he can now die in peace. Kim-Ly apologized to him for keeping him waiting and hugged Minh tightly. She smiled and thanked him, as she told him that he helped her find her own truth and that he made her happy, too! Minh wished her well and told her he needed to rest and she said her last good bye to him and left hurriedly.
She immediately called her mom and told her she would come home right away and how she missed and loved her mom. She apologized to her mom for leaving her and leaving the Buddha, but now that she has found her own truth, and that her heart is free, she is excited to reconnect and love her mom and Buddha even more. The glorious sun was setting as she drove away, and she had forgotten how beautiful the sky was, and how beautiful life can be. She no longer felt the darkness in her heart and with that lifted, she even saw beauty in her own anger and grief and those demons became her friends, no longer gripping and controlling her life. She was reminded of her childhood, when she was pushed by a stranger who was catching the bus, and how her mom said that forgiveness is the Buddha’s Way. She understands that she can continue to live her own life, her own way, and can choose the path who she wants to be, but if she is ever lost, she can trust that the Buddha’s Way can guide her back. Under her breath she chanted, “Nam Mo A Di Da Phat,” as she smiled and bowed her head to the beautiful sunset.
Anh Hinh(Chino Hills, California, USA)