Posts Tagged ‘Grief’

nine eleven thirteen

September 11th, 2013    -    5 Comments

Is this the year that memory fades? The date unremembered until looking over, turning back, taking stock,
you see what you have missed until now?

In this hush
between the rising and dusk
of one minute and month
a season arriving
a circle recycling
we see sharp and know cold
that not one thing stands
or stands still
Not one thing untouched
but all carried intact
by love
deep, far and beyond.


 

fire and water

May 26th, 2013    -    3 Comments

I have been writing seriously for several months, which means I have been seriously reading. I’ve relied on a furnace of words for warmth and light, and an ocean of wisdom to slake my thirst. Most recently, I have consumed these books, and they have consumed me. I wholeheartedly recommend them for telling the one true story of our lives.

9780670026630A Tale for the Time Being – By Ruth Ozeki. When a woman finds a girl’s journal washed up on her island shore, it becomes a portal through time. A mysterious and compelling story, as well as a fearless presentation of Zen’s deepest teachings. Brilliant.

 

age-miracles-karen-thompson-walker-paperback-cover-artThe Age of Miracles – By Karen Walker Thompson. When the Earth’s rotation inexplicably slows, the result reads like neither science nor fiction, but the revelation of our hidden nature in unblinking daylight. Observant and insightful.

 

9780307962690_180X180Wave – By Sonali Deraniyagala.  Her life, family, future and every shred of sanity is washed away by the South Asian tsunami on the day after Christmas. The sole survivor can only say this much. Each word of this memoir is a pearl. Unbearably perfect.

 

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prayer

April 21st, 2013    -    7 Comments

goldenkuanyin

I am crying every mother’s tears
waking in every mother’s night
deafened by the blasts
bleeding in the street
broken to the bone
I am not brave
not quick
not done
I will not forget
cannot untie
every child
every child
every child leaves a mother
and the mother is me.

A prayer of compassion
A plea for peace
A word of truth
Amen.

Kuan Yin in the bodhisattva of compassion. The name Kuan Yin is short for Kuan Shih Yin which means “Observing the Sounds of the World.”

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no way over but through

September 4th, 2012    -    7 Comments

I’m a guest teacher this month at  Shambhala Publication’s Under 35 Project, where the topic is Experiencing Loss.

Under 35 is a site for young meditators to write about finding, beginning and encouraging a mindfulness practice. I hope you’ll visit and read this month’s submissions. If you’re a writer looking for a new venue, or a practitioner looking for support, please consider writing a short essay and contributing it to the site. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re under 35 or not. I view age limitations the same way I view loss: there’s no way over but through, and getting through is what makes a difference.

This remind me of a passage I came across in James Ishmael Ford’s book Zen Master Who? 

There are numerous stories about Maezumi Roshi’s teaching style, but one I particularly like has to do with a student who had been a professional dancer.

As recounted in Sean Murphy’s One Bird, One Stone, the student had badly hurt one of her feet in an accident and was forced to retire from the stage. Embarrassed by her injury, she always kept her foot covered with a sock. In her first interview she asked Maezumi a question about her Zen practice. But he answered, “Never mind that. Tell me about your foot.” She was reluctant to talk but he insisted. She told him the story, weeping, and even took off her sock and showed him her foot.

Maezumi placed his hand silently on her foot. She looked up to find that he was crying too. Their exchanges went on like this for some time. Every time she asked the roshi about her practice, he’d ask about her foot instead, and they’d cry together. “You might think you have suffered terrible karma,” Maezumi told her, “But this is not the right way to think. Practice is about learning to turn disadvantage to great advantage.” Finally the day came when the student walked into the interview room and began to tell her teacher about her injury, but it summoned no tears from her. “Never mind about that,” Maezumi told her. “Let’s talk about your practice.”

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat on Sept. 23 in LA.

The Art of Non-Parenting: Discovering the Wisdom of Easy, and Deeper Still: Breath & Meditation Workshop on Oct. 20-21 in Wash. DC.

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how to say goodbye

September 3rd, 2012    -    27 Comments

In memory of Mr. Nobuaki “Jeffery” Isobe, age 83, born in Tateyama, Chiba, Japan, resident of Rosemead, Calif., who passed away peacefully on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012.

A letter received two weeks after the last one.

Dear Mrs. Miller,

I would like to take this time to inform you of my resignation as your gardener due to an unfortunate discovery of a potentially terminal illness. My illness will require extended treatment and recovery, and I am unsure that my ability to perform my duties will ever return. In addition to considering my age, this is my only option.

It has been a pleasure to work for you and I do apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Sincerely,

Mr. J.I.

out of the chifforobe

October 28th, 2011    -    10 Comments

Staring from family photographs, we look
older than we are. Even as children, our faces
are shadowed with doubt and parental disappointment,
as if to say to those looking years from now:
We persist. We persevere. We do this for you.

– from “In the Olden Days” by Richard Newman

My grandmother’s house held the scent of a mothballed century. Time had locked itself in a cabinet called a chifforobe. The very word was one of the secrets it contained. I considered it a double mystery: first, that a country washerwoman would have a chifforobe, and second, that she would call it by that name, the frill of the double consonant like a vestige of lost extravagance.

Inside hung the few fancy dresses worn by my mother and her sisters to dances and weddings. On summer visits we granddaughters made charades with them. (Such frocks are kept for the sake of girlish fantasy.) But there were other things that held me for a longer stretch — old photographs of the dead and unnamed — my phantom ancestors. I would flip through shoeboxes full of sepia images, staring into the stiff and grim faces of related strangers.

My mother’s people were Wends, an odd and oppressed sort of religious colony, which like all colonies, no longer exists. Run out of Prussia in the late-nineteenth century, they settled in the purgatory of Central Texas where they were mostly poor farmers. (Except for my grandfather, who out of enterprise or foolishness later made himself the town barber, ensuring that he would remain the poorest among poor relations.) The Wends were serious about faith, hard work, and economy. The wedding portraits captured their high sobriety: the brides wearing black to signify the life of toil awaiting them. This foresight was not in the least bit faulty.

These were my kin, somber in face and fashion, weighted by work and gravity, and much younger than they looked. On the backs of some photos, salvaged from frames or torn from albums, were half-vanished names written in thin pencil.

What brings this to mind today? Is it the season? A poem about olden days drifted into my hands and moved me. I have been taken of late with the matter of lineage, and how we have largely disposed of its umbrage. We are a do-it-yourself culture. We believe we can manufacture anything with independence and initiative. Our heroes are the self-made who suggest that by clever sorcery we can conjure our own mythology. Perhaps it is my age that turns me back to face the accident of my birth, which was no accident.

I am not self-made. I have come from the persistent. I am the heir of disappointment and doubt. I came out of the chifforobe and I will yet join the ranks of its unremembered. Like all those before me, I do this for you, and it is all I can do.

Leaving me to wonder and to grieve.

Also inspired by the work of Michael Douglas Jones.

seeing joan

September 8th, 2011    -    7 Comments

On a weekend when we’re being called to have a reckoning with the memory of unspeakable ruin, I won’t say one word. I only offer this light to memorialize a friend who left last week. By this, may you see.

It was a shock, yes, the news. From nowhere, it was a wave, a blast, a shimmer. It was the sun, exploding.

It was Joan.

In the days that followed, that’s how I would recall her. That’s what I would say, “I never saw a shadow darken her face.” Joan was pure radiance, and I think she still is.

She made you think it was all about you: her pure delight at the sight of you. You might have thought you were special, even gifted. But any gift you had was what Joan had first given you. She gave you her presence and she gave you her joy. It wasn’t a pretense. She could not pretend. The fact is, you never once disappointed her.

Joan was full in the way the sun is always full. And I imagine she still is, her arms full of the whole of us, her heart wide open, her face beaming. There are so many who are sad in her absence and so she keeps shining, shining through the shadow that darkens us, the vacancy, the disbelief, until we look up and see the light, the light that is vast and uninterrupted.

It is Joan. I see her still.

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the longest day of my life

August 30th, 2011    -    8 Comments

It’s the day before the start of middle school. I take my daughter to the campus to pick up her sixth grade class schedule. Half hidden by their summer growth spurts are the kids we’ve always known and yet never seen before.

Georgia gambols over the dusty grounds with a pack of friends while I sit under my hat like a mom perched on the rim of a playground. All the action is inside the circle.

Everything moves in patterns and cycles repeating, repeating.

The temperature cools. The sunset shaves off two minutes of daylight. It’s Tuesday, so I wheel the trash cans to the curb. Standing there I recall another dusk when I carried the baby to the sidewalk, so weary, so done, waiting for Daddy’s car to turn into view so I could end the longest day of my life.

It wasn’t long and it wasn’t over. The morning will come and I will love – I will really love – this day forever.

A sad prayer and promise for my happy friend Joan, on what began as another day and ended as her last.

grief is its own teacher

July 19th, 2011    -    1 Comment

And takes its own time. This could help.

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grief is a mother

October 24th, 2010    -    14 Comments

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva doing deep prajna paramita clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions. – Heart Sutra

We are on a death watch at my house. Which is to say, we are on a life watch. Redhead, the fantail I once boasted to be the world’s oldest living goldfish, has become the world’s newest dying goldfish. To watch her transit is a powerful and fitting thing at this hour. And although I kept her alive for so long by absurdly arrogant and heroic measures (see How to Keep a Goldfish Alive in 20 Easy Steps) now I am doing what is even more heroic: letting her disappear into her own insurmountable mystery.

Death surrounds at this time of year. It surrounds at all times, but in these dwindling of days we might see it. We might see it in the surrender of the sun and the swift triumph of night. Feel it in the grip of the wind, the cataclysm of leaves, mud, dirty windshields, paw prints, rain-dank rugs and snot: the whole soggy rot of life’s residue.

Yesterday we observed Obon at the Hazy Moon, a ceremony honoring our departed loved ones. The altar was crowded with photos of more people loved and remembered than have ever stood alive before it. Such is the way, and it is always the way, and it is always sad. Grief is our mother, and when we grieve, we taste her tears. We taste eternity, the brimming fullness from which everything rises and to which everything returns.

I can see the cycle of things that have lately come near:

A mother quaking in bottomless shock after her baby died at birth.
A friend moored in friendship’s final vigil.
A granddaughter answering the clear call of goodbye.

And right here too, come unexpected calls and emails, late word of swift departures and funerals on Thursday at 3. My daughter’s third-grade teacher was stunned six months into her happy retirement by her husband’s sudden crumbling fall into a mean disease. She walked into the school assembly last week, to see and be seen by the children she last cradled, the ones who will be the last to remember her. She whispered her widowed vacancy to me, “It’s the absence, the absence!”

I know that awful yawning space, that thunderclap after a jagged bolt rends the sky. It is the infinite ache of a mother’s heart, the heart we all have whether we are men or women, mothers or not. It is the absence that contains, curiously, our own presence, the tender fearlessness to watch and weep and let angels sleep.

Edited to add: Leave a comment on this post and I’ll include the name of your departed loved one in memorial services I do this week at my backyard altar.

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is you, the embodiment of infinite compassion.

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Madonna of the magnificat

November 12th, 2009    -    8 Comments

I cannot let this day pass without a hallelujah! Without a scream! Without a dance! Without wonder and awe! Without immensity of love and gratitude everlasting!

Sylvia Marie Olson
8 lbs, 8 oz
20 inches
Lots of red hair!
Born 5:56 a.m. on November 12, 2009

Perhaps you met this family in my backyard about eighteen months ago. Perhaps you met my friend Jen at the first Mother’s Plunge. Perhaps you know everything I’m about to show you. And if so, you know it bears repeating again and again. The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.

The squiggly wigglies

April 23rd, 2009    -    3 Comments

I’m off for a three-day retreat at my practice home starting tonight, because this silent spaciousness is where all stories begin and end.

Before I leave I want to share some recent inspiration.

First, the Shambhala Sun has reposted my piece on the Dharma of Barbie. Even after you think you’ve tossed her, the old girl never dies. And there’s always a new generation of parents for her to haunt. If you scroll down to the end of the story, you’ll see the announcement that I’ll soon be launching a blog on their site named after the stuff that is always near to my heart. Once I sort the lights from the darks, we’ll see what comes out of it. Leave a comment over there and let them know that I’m not just full of suds.

This column in the New Yorker snapped, crackled and popped my eyes open earlier this week. It’s a fascinating look that could leave you wondering about how much you’re willing to commit to yourself during troubling times.

Speaking of troubles, I was touched by this letter to fellow practitioners. Not just because the need is urgent and the time is now, but because of the sheer delight in seeing that, even to a Rinpoche, practice is just pretense. We must all pretend harder!

Lastly, I was so moved by Cam’s reflection on loss. It reminds me that the why that has no answer is the very why we keep going, and that love and loss are never separate.

And just for a parting grin, this snippet of conversation two days ago over a sleeping dog.

Mom, you know what I’ve figured out?

What’s that?

A well-trained dog isn’t that much fun.

Why not?

Because you don’t get to wrestle it, and have trouble with it. You don’t get to be mad at it.

I see.

So a well-trained dog isn’t the best kind.

You think?

If we ever get a new puppy can we name it Squiggly or Wiggly?

Too little time, too many facts

February 10th, 2009    -    18 Comments


A nocturne to the strains of a full moon.

Mommy, don’t be mad I can’t go to sleep.

Make your mind empty. No thoughts. No pictures.

You mean like a TV screen that goes blank?

Yes, blank.

I don’t want to grow up.

I’ll always be with you.

How old was I when your mommy died?

Not yet two.

It’s sad that I didn’t get to see her or know her.

She watches you every night when you sleep.

Then she must be watching someone else tonight.

No, she’s right here, waiting for you to go to sleep so she can come to you in your dream.

Mommy, don’t be mad I can’t go to sleep.

Are you nervous about something?

Yes.

What is it?

We have a timed test tomorrow and there are too many facts.

Facts don’t matter. Make your mind blank like the night sky. Without the moon.

Mommy?

Yes.

I really love you.

I’ll always be with you.

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