Saturday, May 4, 2013

the strawberry of memory

That's my friend Rich's voice on the soundtrack of this video.  He died earlier this week, a 37 year old victim of heart attack.  The story of the monk and the strawberry, while it has a lot of history behind it, particularly for Buddhists, also has tremendous import for me.  Decades ago, while still taking myself seriously as a bhikku in training, I determined I'd live my life by its lessons.  It held at least equal resonance for Rich.

This is a video he produced for an arts project at the seminary we attended together and I'd seen it twice, once as he prepared it and again in a class on Zen we took.  He is--was, I have to remind myself--an odd person even among the denizens of my congregations.  He had, even by my standards, an interesting life:  born (and, I think, baptized) a Mormon, converter to Unitarian Universalism, converter to fundamental Christianity, converter to Buddhism, graduate of Liberty University.  Volunteer in the military, veteran of the Bosnian Conflict and the First Iraq War.  Chaplain in training.  World traveler.  Learner of Japanese.  His first marriage ended very badly and bitterly and it was in chewing over the bitterness and learning to accept the hot taste of it that we bonded.  His second marriage to a Japanese woman five years his senior he met at a Buddhism conference.ended with his death. They were married a month.

In a week my seminary will hold a memorial for his memory.  We are very good at memorials, fitting for people whose primary purpose, no matter what we tell ourselves, is to comfort the dying and the surviving.  I am trying not to mourn Rich's death but merely, as I think he would express it, to accept it.  He was a good man who got on my nerves at times--he talked too much at times, pressed his presence on people at times, made too much of his Buddhism at times, refused to observe his own faults at times--but do we know anyone (besides ourselves) who don't get on our nerves at times?  That, as much as dying, is a part of life.

The story of the monk and his strawberry doesn't mention anyone acknowledging the monk's death.  But like the rest of us monks need a community; a monk may live a solitary life but one isn't a monk by oneself.   That's what distinguishes her from a hermit.  Someone notices the monk's absence.  Someone has a moment of silence or a brief word for his life and death. Someone recollects the monk's life.  This reflection may be the sweet part of someone's life, the strawberry plucked, not by the monk but by the monk's survivors, enjoyed in contemplation.

If I could play the guitar or sing I would play this for Rich.  But as I can't do either I'll go to the original.

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