after the before

May 11th, 2020

My mother’s first round of chemotherapy was successful, or so it seemed to us. She revived. Her hair sprouted. Her vigor returned and she went searching for something, anything that could restore what she could no longer conjure up: feeling like she did before. Before chemo? Before surgery? Before the c-word? Before carcinogens, cyclamates, hormone replacement therapy or second-hand smoke? Before the first cell made its disastrous detour toward mutation? She tried acupuncture, herbs, juices, vitamins, music, laughter, meditation and some of the internet remedies and rumors sent her way. I didn’t tell her there was no “before;” no place, no time, no single fixed point of certain health, certain safety or certain anything. I didn’t tell her because I, too, wanted her to find it.

When I went to Los Angeles to meditate with Maezumi Roshi for the first time it was, by coincidence, the weekend of my thirty-seventh birthday. I told him the occasion, but otherwise I was covering up a lot that weekend, or so I thought— my heartache, my loneliness, my endless longing and my fear at moving beyond. He gave me a handmade gift: a freshly inked calligraphy of the kanji Chinese characters for “spring” and “fall.”

“Would you like to see my inspiration,” he offered, and he pointed to a line of delicate print in a leatherbound volume:

No matter how much the spring wind loves the peach blossoms, they still fall.

— from Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood


This seems ever-more appropriate now, when we are so far beyond the beginning, and infinitely before the after. And so we wait in faith and pray.

“Faith, Prayer and Song” a new dharma talk.

Photo by Stella Tran on Unsplash


  1. three bows to you, Maezen… may you and your loved ones be safe. xox

    Comment by Maia Duerr — May 11, 2020 @ 9:05 am

  2. Yes. Beautiful.
    Byron Katie once had a beautiful entry on her blog about her sister who had died. Katie was sitting with her brother in law who sadly asked her “What will I do now?” and she answered “Well, you might sit and feel sad for a while, but at a certain point you might become thirsty or have to go to the bathroom and you will stand up and go do that.”

    Comment by Simone — May 11, 2020 @ 10:35 am

  3. I listened to your talk and expected you to sing, but you didn’t!

    Comment by Larry Misiak — May 12, 2020 @ 2:11 pm

  4. Thank you Karen, I enjoyed this very much! We met at Lake Austin Resort, you were with your sisters & I, the widow was with mine. You helped me, thanks for that!

    Comment by Joanne — May 14, 2020 @ 3:33 pm

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