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Saying Goodbye

Our one of two cat food bowls sitting empty this morning took on a whole new and sorrow-filled meaning. We put our cat Juba down yesterday.

14-years ago, almost directly after filling out the paperwork to buy the house we still reside in, we went to the Humane Society to fetch ourselves a cat in which to accompany our fresh purchase. Over-run with a new litter of orange kittens – to the point of being out of cages to put them in – they offered us a two-for-one deal. After some minor hesitation, we accepted their offer and left with two brother kittens, one in each hand.

Over the years, we’ve often pondered how terrible it would’ve been had we gotten only one, as we had intended (though we wouldn’t have known it). Our 2 brother cats have been great company and friends to each other. A couple of years ago, I finally got around to something I’d wanted to do for a long while. I sent the Humane Society a card, thanking them for their generosity in giving us a buy-one-get-one-free kitten and providing such a wonderful service to our community.

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Posted by on May 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Upon Waking

A little something I wrote early this morning, upon waking:

Within five minutes of waking, I had come up with a handful of things to be grateful for.

Within fifteen minutes, I was reminded of how sometimes – lots of times – my husband does not smell good, even when he’s sound asleep.

Within twenty minutes, I had scooped a teaspoon of loose gunpowder green tea peals into my tea strainer and delighted in the noise it made whilst tumbling in, akin to graupel on a windowpane. And I’d been bowled over for a brief moment by the realization that having running water is a great luxury not everyone has (the sound of which reminded me that in my exuberance to put pen to paper, I’d forgotten to pee).

Within thirty minutes, I deflated a bit when remembering that today, my Saturday would include an unscheduled trip to Grimebusters Laundromat, due to the fact that one of our cats peed in our bed last night, all the way through the comforter and both sheets. And I invested brain power in once again trying to come up with a less churlish-sounding substitute word for ‘pee.’

Within an hour, I was surrounded by a collection of papered items, which would relay to someone who didn’t know me that I’m both a writer and a Buddhist.

Within an hour and five minutes, I’d been given goosebumps upon reading a new bit of writing that I myself had crafted – and I didn’t feel silly or shameful about it (which is a newer development).

And within one hour and 48 minutes, I had run the gamut of thought, vacillating from birth to old age to death; from ideas for spoken word pieces to all the people I love and adore (including a whopping 4 friends who all have their birthday today!); and from that which stirs me up to that which serves to knock me down.

 

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Living A Better Life

The Buddha said: If we keep death in front of us, if we are aware of it, we will live better lives.

Last fall, in preparation for a session of walking meditation that our sangha hosted at a local cemetery, I fashioned together a card-sized collage of pictures of friends and family members who’ve passed away, whether recently or many years ago. I continue to use this collage card as a bookmark in my spiral-bound notebook journal, which I write personal account entries in a few times a month. Encountering this bookmark of collaged pictures affords me the ability to practice staying in touch with the preciousness of life, by keeping death in front of me.

At the time of putting the collage together, I also saw fit to include three people who were still alive but nearing the end of their currently held life-cycle: my grandmother Claire, who’s since passed away, and my grandmother Mary and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who are both still very much alive. I included these individuals as a practice of deepening my sense of gratitude and also further developing my ever-growing understanding of impermanence.

It’s easy to think that calling to mind our loved ones that have passed away will be too painful. It’s easy to avoid connecting with the memories of our dearly departed friends and family members and to occupy our minds with a cascade of other matters. But when we develop a way to actively practice staying in relationship with those who’ve passed away – with the nature and reality of death itself – the initial pain that will likely crop up for us will have the opportunity to become transformed into a furthering opening of the heart.

At first, and for a little while, it was uncomfortable for me to look at the collage card I put together. To connect with the images and memories of so many loved ones who’ve passed away was rather startling and unsettling. But, once again, everything takes practice. Truly. Now that I’ve been encountering this card – one side collage and one side a picture of my friends David and Alison from their joint memorial service last summer – on a regular, ongoing basis, I’m finding that the discomfort has largely dissipated.

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On Suicide

Shawn Leonard

December 8, 1980 – February 6, 2018

A long-held acquaintance of mine committed suicide a few days ago. Shawn Leonard. His funeral service was today. Shawn was a friend of my husband’s since the 6th grade who, according to Mike, entered his friend group based on his skills of not being deterred by all the crap they gave him.

Feelings of grief and loss have been coming in waves for me since his death.

The funeral today was packed full of people, filled with sorrow, confusion, and questions – one glaring one in particular: Why?

On the back of the program for today’s service, it stated:

Shawn made everyone’s life a little brighter. He will be so missed by so many. Don’t ask why – ask how you can bring a little Shawn to the lives of those you love.

Each member of his parental team: mom, dad, stepmom, and stepdad, along with four of his six siblings and his oldest nephew, spoke at the service, painting a vivid picture of Shawn’s authentic, lighthearted, and generous spirit. Some of their words that stuck with me and made a lasting impression:

If there’s something you want to do with a loved one, DO IT! (Shawn’s dad)

Shawn loved hard and loved often. (One of his sisters)

Talk more and listen more. I regret that I didn’t talk more and listen more to Shawn. We never know when it will be the last time we’ll see someone. (Shawn’s 19-year-old nephew)

 

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Posted by on February 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Everything Dies

On our way home from the carousel yesterday, with his 4-year-old brother asleep in the car seat next to him, the soon-to-be 3-year-old I nanny for began spontaneously – and very calmly – listing aloud all of the things and people that are subject to die.

He listed individuals, inanimate objects, and really anything he could think of. While I couldn’t quite make out most of what he was saying, I did hear: “And Finn (his brother) will die. And garbage cans will die.” His list went on for a while. And ____ will die. And ____will die…

He ended by saying: “Everything…in the…WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD…will die.”

I thought it rather impressive that he saw fit to not only state this in slow fashion but also put emphasis on the words that he did.

He then added the words: “right away” to the end of his declarative finale. As in: Everything in the whole entire world will die. (pause) Right away.

I queried back in response: “Everything will die right away?”

“Right away.” he repeated.

Sensing there was something lost in translation, I rephrased and asked, “Everything will die right now?”

“No.” he said, very matter of factly.

“Do you mean that everything will die some time?” I asked.

“Yes,” he agreed, everything will die some time, Cole.”

“That’s true.” I said.

And that was that.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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This is it!?!

On Saturday morning, I watched the first 15-minutes of a talk by Sr. Thệ Nghiêm at Deer Park Monastery, given on September 15, 2017 (see Youtube link below). She spoke about something I’ve both experienced personally and spoken about in a talk I gave 3-4 years ago. At Deer Park Monastery, in southern California, behind the alter of orchids in the big meditation hall, sits a circular wooden sign that says: This is it. When I first encountered this calligraphy of Thay’s, I misunderstood its teaching and took it as a glib proclamation, as in: This is it, I guess. Whatever. Sigh.

As you likely imagine, this is not what it means. Back in the day, I knew I wasn’t viewing it as intended, I simply hadn’t developed my own insight about it’s intent just yet. Understanding unfolds over time, with practice in cultivating diligence and deep looking. Words/teachings can only take us so far. They can show us a new path to venture down, but we have to be the ones to move our feet and actualize the fruits of what it has to offer.

This is it is an invitation to look more deeply into every facet and fissure of our lives, really. To see life as ever-flowing, ever-changing, and ever-amazing. To understand the depths of This is it, means to see clearly that this moment – whatever moment we find ourselves amid – IS it, truly. This present moment is the foundation for the next present moment, and it’s up to us to sculpt it in the best way possible. To turn our lives into a living art form.

One of the main root teachings I receive nourishment of, by staying apprised of both local and world news, is in regards to the nature of life and death. In short: there are a lot of ways to live and there are a lot of ways to die. The more I learn and deepen my understanding of this truth – this nature of reality – the more it opens me to the preciousness of life, and the myriad of possibilities that exist.

This is it! is more than a teaching. It’s a way of living.

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Life & Death

Every year, for the past I don’t know how many years (8? 10? 12?), I help with the set-up for the Tree of Life Ceremony, which is put on in early December by the hospice organization I volunteer for on a weekly basis, meeting with patients. This annual event is a time to remember our loved ones who’ve passed away, whether recently or many years ago. There’s a tree lighting ceremony that takes place in Rose Memorial Park, followed by a non-faith based service at St. Paul Lutheran Church, situated a few blocks away, and is concluded with a reception in their fellowship hall. The reception is stocked with typically over 100 dozen cookies that the staff & volunteers bake, warm beverages, and is a chance to peruse the banners (see pic above) we put together, which display the many names that community members have submitted in memory of those who’ve passed away. This year, we had over 900 names.

Yesterday, while helping with the set-up process for this event, I worked alongside a hospice staff member who shared with me the story of how she just moved to town not long ago at the request of her daughter, who was wanting her help in trying to get back to school, while raising young children and still recovering from a car accident that left her with brain trauma just under a year ago. Her daughter was stopped at a light here in town and hit by a texting driver, going 50- mph.

Switching…

While arranging the names on the banners, I unexpectedly came across my grandmother’s name: Claire Carlson. My grandmother, still alive, is on hospice care in Arkansas. I spoke with her just the other day and was the last grandchild to do so. She’s expected to pass away in the next few days.

When I think of her, I think of watercolor paintings of flowers and landscapes on crisp white paper, framed by my grandfather, when he was alive. I think of the tomatoes she was forever growing in pots and how I used to steal candies from her nightstand – though, I suspect she knew full well and didn’t mind.

When I think of her, I think of summers spent at boardwalk art shows, a mixture of sun and sea coating my skin and tangling my long hair. When I think of her, I think of my grandfather, even though he’s been gone for over 15 years.

And I reckon she passed down her artistic flare to me, though my mediums are the written word and music. Still, it takes an artist to decode this one, richly given life in such a way where melodies can be heard and beauty can be seen in even the smallest drops of everyday. With an artist’s eye, I look out onto the world, misshapen with strife though it may be. I gaze in its direction as though it were a sunset or rise, a marvel of ingenuity on display.

When I think of her, I think of how fortunate I am, truly, to be here, now.

Switching…

Sitting in a pew last night at the church, listening as the hospice chaplain and one of the bereavement coordinators shared skilled words of nourishment and support, I thought of the many friends I’ve had who’ve passed away, especially over the last couple of years. I thought of those who will pass away soon, such as both of my grandmothers. And I also thought of everyone I take for granted, thinking they will live another 30 or 40 years – all those I figure I will have an endless amount of time to absorb into my heart.

One thing I most appreciate about being a hospice volunteer is that in meeting with patients who are dying, it opens my eyes and my heart to those who are living around me, firm in the understanding that we can all go at any time. Befriending death allows me to befriend life.

Switching…

Written in August, 2016:

I’d been visiting Al every Tuesday at 10:00am for over a year, before he passed away, 3 days ago. He was 91 years old, though he often liked to tell me he was 100. I never disagreed, as it seemed to bring him a wave of pride and pleasure to share with me the fact that he had reached triple digits. Besides, I figured, whether 91, 94, 97, or 100, they’re all milestones in my book, each one indicating having lived a long life.

Back in April, during one of our weekly visits, I decided it would be a good idea to jot down some of the things he said. I sat next to him with some paper and a pen and told him my intention. He found it humorous, and mildly baffling, that I wanted to record his Words of Wisdom, as I called it. He didn’t feel what he had to say was of any special value or worth remembering. But he obliged me just the same.

Here’s what I scribbled down that one day:

Your mental attitude is hooked to well being.
You don’t realize how you can mold your life.You are the one commander of your own mind and body.Don’t let it get away from you.
I still think of myself as a young man. Hell, you have to.
A smile will get you more friends than a grimace. You’ve got to smile at society.
Nothing in my life has been dead serious. Nothing can’t be changed.
Gray hair ain’t heavier to carry around – and they take less water.
When you get up in the morning, get a smile on your face.
He called this one Al’s Secret to Longevity: If you have a choice between making a friend or an enemy, always make a friend. I always figured it was better to make a friend.
Walk away from cranky people, they’ll affect you.
Carrying a grudge gets to be pretty solid after awhile.
Boy, it’s nice to be alive today.

In memory of Al, 1925-2016

 

 

 

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