I was gifted yesterday with so many things – intense fear and the ability to remember to open my heart to love in the midst of it, overwhelming grief and the knowledge that this is exactly the path I need to be on, and a beautiful memorial ceremony for Ben, performed by Karen Maezen Miller in her backyard.
In Hand Wash Cold, she writes about the Jizo statue that was placed long ago in the Japanese garden that surrounds her home.
A Jizo is a monk with the face of a child. The statue symbolizes kindness and protection, but like all Buddhist imagery, it doesn’t represent anything outside of yourself….Jizo is said to guard the safe passage of travelers in life and death, and particularly women and children. In the way that we are all travelers, and all children we are each Jizo as well, capable of bringing care and consciousness to every step. – Karen Maezen Miller
She then mentions a couple whose baby was given a terminal diagnosis at the end of pregnancy. They birthed him and held him as he died. They came to her and she invited them to the Jizo. When I wrote about reading Hand Wash Cold I had no idea that would bring Karen directly to me. She offered to say a ceremony for him, then invited me to come say one with her. On the two month anniversary of his death, I celebrated Benjamin’s short life with her, with Jizo, with myself.
After placing the objects I had brought with me – an orchid, a letter and painting from me, a note from his sister, a remembrance of his life painted by another BLM, and of course, his daddy’s love – we lit incense and chanted the ceremony. Maezen then left me to be on my own for as long as I wanted.
I cried. I talked to Ben. I looked around me at the garden. It is a place of great aliveness and great peace. Dragonflies danced above the ponds, fish swam quietly beneath the surface, sun shone through the leaves on the massive trees above me. I breathed deeply and that breath filled me with a sense of rightness. Despite the sadness, the loss, the physical and emotional healing that needs to happen, everything is as it needs to be. I held the moment close, wrapped myself in it so I can remember its warmth when the fear takes hold again. Then I stood and Maezen presented me with my practice for the next seven days.
We talked for a while, in her beautiful garden. She invited me back anytime, with anyone. When the time was right, I left, a long hug goodbye holding me well after I’d driven away.
I am not a Buddhist. I know little about Zen. What I do recognize is peace, welcome, home, an open mind and heart, love. Karen Maezen and the space she is caretaker of are all of those and more.