January 4, 2023
On New Year’s Eve, I began drafting this love letter in the hills near Deer Park Monastery. Birds were cawing and somber clouds would soon bless the land with rain. I was alone with the ancestors in the stupa for Brother Giac Thanh, breathing with the Buddha, Thay, and all who have come before.
I invite you to breathe with the ancestors now, resting in the stupa of your own heart. Touch the bravery and love of those who left homes and crossed oceans in search of a better life. Know that their resilience and sacrifice were acts of love for you and all future generations. Pause to recognize the gifts of your inheritance: a warm and cozy home in Oakland, easy access to food and clean water, the freedom to choose how you spend your days.
You are blessed with the time and resources to follow your own heart. Remember the vocation which shines ever so brightly and cultivate its flame, so that your light may be a blessing to all beings.
Deep in my heart, with the blessings of the ancestors, I recognize a spiritual mandate and lifelong commitment to building Beloved Community – in an atmosphere of consensus, inclusivity, and harmony – with a commitment to true peace, justice, and liberation for all beings.
I will do this work as a bridge-builder, artist, poet, and writer; as a person of Japanese and Chinese roots; as an aging young person; and as a leader in the Plum Village community.
This year, I connected with my blood ancestors, tracing their stories of birth, immigration, labor, marriage, and death in the United States. They are family stories of displacement and loss of homeland, poverty, economic mobility and education – situated in the larger U.S. context of capitalism, war, and theft of Indigenous lands. I include these stories here because they are my stories too.
Maternal ancestors first immigrated to Hawaii from Japan and China between 1888-1893. Great-grandmother Esther Yoshiko Hironaga Fujii was born in Holualoa (Big Island) in 1910, and later worked at the Hawaiian Tuna Company, processing fish for export. Esther Yoshiko and her husband Sanichi practiced Jodo Shinshu Buddhism at the Hongwanji Mission, while her siblings practiced Shintoism and Soto Zen. During World War II, these Japanese Buddhist and Shinto ancestors experienced racial discrimination and martial law, later making their way into the middle class through home ownership.
Paternal great-grandfather Mun On Gin arrived to Angel Island from Hong Kong in 1910. He was the “paper son” of a Gin family in Arizona at a time when racist Chinese Exclusion Acts barred entry to laborers like him. At age 11, he became a house servant and cook for a white family in Santa Barbara; as an adult, he opened a restaurant on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Later, Mun On helped his son (grandfather Henry) purchase his first liquor store in Koreatown – a small business which lifted my father’s family out of poverty into the middle class.
Today, I bow deeply to the resilience of these ancestors in the face of racism and injustice. I know that their anger, anxiety, and fears of scarcity and discrimination still exist within me. I honor their suffering as I do their gifts, and I commit to healing the ancestral and childhood wounds that lie deep in my consciousness.
This year, I learned to embrace my incredible sensitivity to sensory inputs (light, noise, movement, scent) and to take refuge in slowness and quiet without apology. Disability is part of my lived experience – in sensory sensitivity, anxiety, and the severity of my food allergies. I am learning to meet these differences with more patience and curiosity, beginning to transform familiar narratives of shame and anger.
In January, I began a romantic relationship with Ryan Heiroku Fukumori, a person whose depth and solidity inspires me to show up with more integrity. Ryan challenges me to let go of expectations and to celebrate the beauty of what is. He surprises me with his creativity and humor, and is willing to try on the things I care most about – meditation, slow walking, community building.
This year, I met big changes at Code for America with humility and care. After a challenging year of transitions, a new manager, and multiple shifts in project scope, I am fortunate to have carved a new role for myself in 2023, one that integrates technology with relationship management and consulting.
This year, I published an article in The Arrow, spoke on two panels (one on “the future of American Buddhism”, another honoring Thich Nhat Hanh), and met some of my literary heroes. I took classes on calligraphy and glass fusing, and hydrated clay at home in the making of beautiful coil pots.
In January, my beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh passed away. I stepped into caretaking for the Wake Up San Francisco sangha – shaping a caretaking council, planning an Engaged Buddhism retreat, holding facilitator trainings. I began supporting the emergence of a new sangha initiative, Beloved Community Circles. This summer, Joann supported my lay ordination to the Order of Interbeing. And this winter, 22 friends, mentors, and teachers showered me with love and wisdom in two Shining the Light ceremonies.
In 2023, I will focus my energy, time, and resources on building the Beloved Community. I will center my spiritual practice as the foundation of my life: meditating consistently, attending sangha meetings at least weekly, and taking care of the “Beloved Community Circles” project. I will be intentional about transitioning my work on the Wake Up San Francisco caretaking team by the end of 2023, establishing a governance structure that invites confidence and ease.
I will learn to be my own soulmate – to trust myself to provide deep listening and validation, reassurance, flower watering, and to hold my own suffering with love (inspired by Sister Dang Nghiêm).
I will do my best to build a foundation of trust, humility, and ease in my relationship with Ryan, and to be thoughtful and open as we continue exploring the possibility of long-term partnership.
I will take responsibility for my fertility and freeze my eggs to facilitate future motherhood.
I will make space for lazy days, and take refuge in stillness and slowness.
Dear soulmate Melanie, welcome to 2023. May the blessings of the ancestors support you on this path of liberation. May your efforts be of benefit to all beings everywhere.