As I have heard Blanche say quite a few times, quoting Katagiri Roshi I believe, "Death is certain - time of death is uncertain". For all that we have been anticipating deaths elsewhere in the sangha, this evening Jerome, one of our oldest and most venerable residents, collapsed and died. I had seen him a couple of hours before, settled into his usual chair in the small kitchen, surrounded, as always, by a pile of newspapers and his food and drink. On Sundays he loved to read the travel sections and the book sections, squinting to see the words. I talked to him about the weather, as I often do, not knowing if he actually heard me or was just giving a stock response according to the tone of what was addressed to him.
After he had been taken off to the hospital, and pronounced dead, I was roused from my room to organise the ringing of the densho 108 times. A stream of residents, probably half the building, came downstairs, offered incense and did one prostration for every strike of the bell. I stood by with the large mala, counting off the hits. From upstairs, phone calls could be heard, arrangements being made, everyone helping out during what is usually a quiet time for the building. We will have the body back tomorrow, to sit with him before the funeral.
I am not the best person to speak about his life, but I think he had been practising for fully forty years within Zen Center, and he still led a group reading the Avatamsaka Sutra every Tuesday morning. This too, is our deep community.
This is the only picture I have of Jerome, taken two years ago, after a jukai I believe, sitting in the courtyard just outside the Buddha Hall.