Between Logistics and Grief
The practical necessities of daily life dominate the days. Yesterday, for example, I visited with a FEMA representative at the local Disaster Relief Center about the process of applying for additional housing and grant support, then scurried over to the Small Business Administration table to talk with a loan officer about the status of our SBA loan. After completing another four errands, I returned to Sunset House—our home for the next six months—just in time to work with a Century Link technician to see if she could bring a land line into this house with its 1950s wiring. There’s only one place in the house where the phone line does not hiss and sputter, but David cannot hear the headset ringing in that room. He has never entered the era of cell phones, and I am seeking a way to communicate with him when I’m not here. Then, two trips to Lowe’s, where we argued about what kind of drill we should buy because two fine electric and battery-powered drills were among the tools in our studio/shop that washed away. We came home agitated and hungry. I made dinner, David did dishes, and we fell into bed in restless exhaustion. As we try to establish new routines in a strange place, each day is a variation of this kind of activity.
In the midst of such moderate frenzy, I mourn the losses. Friends and colleagues have asked me why I feel such grief, given that David’s and my house in Jamestown can be repaired. “You have your house,” said one. “Well, you [and David] are okay and you have each other,” said another. These facts are true, and of course they bring a small measure of solace. But the effects of the September flood are much more pervasive and disturbing.
We lost the immediacy of the community in Jamestown, a safe place for David at this time of his life. He would walk to the post office or Elysian Park, and he was well known in town as the old guy with the brown beret and walking sticks. He would sit on the porch and watch the comings and goings of residents and dogs, tracking the life of the place while reading magazines and books. He had recently spent weeks with Jacob Bronowski’s The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, reading and rereading, trying to fathom Bronowski’s ideas. This past July, he walked proudly at the head of the Fourth of July parade in his World War II uniform. Here, he turned around to wait for others to catch up with him.
We lost the site, although the property remains. Contractors working for the county and state literally moved the creek from the center of our property back into its creek bed with huge excavators. Massive berms of earth and rock remain where the medicinal garden used to be. The entire contemplative garden, with its marble carvings and many benches and chairs, is gone. The fruit trees, the planted beds, and the circumambulation path are gone. My stones are gone, except for a few fragments and two battered pieces that remain whole. All of my stone tools vanished downstream. I mourn the loss of everything I described in detail in Book of This Place.
I mourn the loss of the vision of what my retirement would be: digging into the process of exploring my art, exploring what I am capable of as an artist in my 60s. Having given so much energy during the past 40 years to others as a professor, administrator, and public citizen, I looked forward to undertaking an inner journey that would be expressed through further developing the contemplative garden and carving new stones. I had gathered what I needed for this journey: for instance, a four-foot standing marble block from Marble, Colorado, for a stupa; and another exquisite large stone from Carrara, Italy, on which I would engrave words from the famous Prajnaparamita Sutra. Now, these and other stones are gone.
I mourn the loss of my 10’ x 14’ meditation cabin, which I called “the Stone Studio” because of its earlier incarnation as the place where I stored all of my tools. In particular, I mourn the loss of plans to conduct a three-month solitary retreat there during the winter of 2014. The cabin was simply prepared, with five Buddhist thangkas and one of my own large drawings, plus a painting by my teacher, the Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche. A maple table made by fine woodworker Tak Kida, and a small walnut chair and table. A shrine with the accouterments that support meditation practice, including a marble Buddha that I bought in Boulder and had refinished and polished to what carvers call a “snowflake” finish, because of the way it shimmers in the light. All, gone.
This is the shape of my grief, at least as much as I want to write at this moment.
Will I remain in despair about such losses? No. As my dear friend Patricia reminded me recently, homo sapiens is a resilient species. We survived ice ages and painted in caves in France and on rock walls in north Africa. We built stone circles and placed standing stones in isolated places such as Orkney and the Outer Hebrides.
Will I proceed on the inner journey I have envisioned? Yes, but in new yet-to-be-determined ways.