Usually, Memorial Day weekend involves the coming together of communities throughout America to honor fallen service members. Last year, who could have imagined what this year would be like? Now, in the face of the COVID-19 global health crisis, we must unfortunately cancel our annual lantern floating ceremony.
However, to preserve what has become a shared tradition and to support our friends in Hawaii, we will be offering a virtual ceremony that will be aired on local television and streamed online today.
Like people around the world, we pray every day for the safety of the health care and essential workers that risk much to keep our communities functioning, as well as for the welfare of the millions now isolated at home, without access to work, school, or social ties that are so important to financial security, mental health and happiness. Many lives have been lost, many are stricken, livelihoods have been disrupted, and many face economic uncertainty. This pandemic will undoubtedly leave its mark in the world long after we resume our usual lives. With so much heartbreak, it is understandable that we might feel overwhelmed.
Yet, from the darkness of this moment, we have also witnessed acts of courage and kindness that inspire hope and faith in humanity. There are countless stories of health care workers devotedly taking up their duty in dire circumstances, some even at the cost of their lives. But we must not overlook the many stories of everyday acts of kindness that we also hear. It takes courage to face each new day, and to reach out from isolation to support friends, neighbors and strangers. The pandemic has also revealed how good people can be.
In our tradition, we use the Japanese word shinnyo to refer to the “natural goodness” that each of us possesses. The wonderful acts that we see during this global crisis come from our shinnyo. When I perform the lantern floating ceremony, I chant the prayer: “Namu Shinnyo” (empowered with hope and courage). We chant this prayer with the belief that it has the power to enhance the natural goodness inside each of us, which in turn helps us to face and overcome challenges with compassion and grace.
But simply praying for a better world will not be enough to bring it about. We must bring our prayers into the world through action. My father taught me that remembrance, like we practice on Memorial Day, is about performing acts of kindness, beginning with those closest to us. We awaken the natural kindness that comes from our shinnyo by remembering loved ones during the lantern floating ceremony, and in their memory we reach out to share that goodness with others. The positive effects of these small steps resonate outward into the world far beyond us.
Now, when our lives are disrupted, what can we do to help each other and our world? We can remember those who have gone before us, who through their kindness have taught us what it means to be good. We can let that remembrance awaken our shinnyo, and express it in kind words and actions toward others. It is precisely at times like this that our thoughts, words, and actions have greater reach and impact than ever.
A kind word or warm gesture can make a world of difference. There is always something that only you can do.
With the sincere wish that we recognize and hold on to our shared goodness to see us through this period of hardship and see each other again in 2021, I leave you with my heartfelt prayer: Namu Shinnyo!