It is often said that Buddhist practice is a way of dealing with our fear of death, as are most religions I suppose, and this has certainly been a big factor for me over the years. Alongside that, though, one thing that struck me in my early days of living at Zen Center was how it seemed to provide wonderful tools for growing old.
Both my grandfathers died when I was very young; I have one memory of my father's father, lying in his sick bed in the very old house they lived in. I was probably five; it was his birthday and 'my' gift to him, supplied no doubt by my mother, was a red tie, and with a five year old's precocity I remember thinking, hopefully not aloud, why does he need a tie if he is in bed all the time? My grandmothers were more durable, and offered great and differing examples to me as I was growing up. To simplify greatly, one was quite pious and always helping other people - even when she was in assisted living after a bout of cancer in her eighties, she was taking care of the 'old people' around her - and the other was more of a worldly socialiser, certainly an atheist, and perhaps a bit of a hedonist until she was reduced by a stroke.
Blanche has for many years been the grandmother of City Center, and I have always been impressed and inspired by her devotion to practice and to living in community - and of course, until recently, her devotion to Lou. During sesshin I was thinking of writing something about the great efforts she was making to be in her leadership role to help Lien in her shuso training, enduring the long hours of sitting despite the physical and mental strains of grief. Alongside her, as well, were Michael and Vicki, each dealing with physical difficulties, but persisting in their whole-hearted practice, and offering a teaching just by their continued generous presence.
Blanche had asked me recently if she could be the kokyo for a Full Moon Ceremony, and I was happy to have her take this on. Just before we started yesterday, when I went upstairs to see if all were ready, she was worrying that she might not have enough energy to do it all, but once we were in the Buddha Hall, her voice came sailing out across the room, strong and rich, and her energy filled the assembly. Once again she was showing by example how to make your best effort on each moment, as she loves to quote Suzuki Roshi as saying.
By way of a counterpoint, this morning as we gathered in the kitchen for the breakfast bow-in, the solemnity of the circle was broken by three-year-old P racing through the door on his blue and red tricycle. There was great laughter at seeing his whole-hearted activity.