About Me

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I am a 60 something Californian, former world traveler of the back packing variety, a Buddhist, a writer, photographer, and teacher.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

From the Overlander Project: Traveling  Blind

It began when i was still a child of seven or so, I cannot now remember exactly when. It continued into my twenties. When I woke, still standing in a dream, the feeling would start, a piercing of the heart, a yearning, an anguish. It was not there every morning, but frequently, and when it was, the sensation could become so strong at times it was almost physical pain - but not quite. It was so demanding of my emotions  it was like fresh grief - but not quite.  While it lasted, it was so unsettling that the sensation itself was a kind of pain. I would lie there asking the feeling to reveal what it was. Was I sad? Sorry? Guilty? Sick? I had, and still have, no words to offer for it. In a few minutes the sensation would fade, even as I still stretched my mind toward it, trying to understand the message - in vain. The only way I can explain it is that it is what I imagine a person might feel who had fallen perfectly in love with someone, and then suffered amnesia. Great loss - without the hint of a referent. It was only when i began to study Buddhism that the mysterious feeling stopped.  Interestingly, when I slack off on my practice for long, it returns, a bodily signpost.  

Buddhist lamas have a  teaching story of a giant sea turtle who swims the oceans of the world. On the surface is a golden ring, tossed in waves, swirled in currents, drifting endlessly. The turtle is not looking for the ring; indeed, he is blind. His chances of encountering it are further reduced by the fact that he rises to the surface only once in a hundred years. Yet given the vastness of time, and the endless nature of the experience of consciousness, the day will come when, without knowing where he is, the turtle will rise to the surface and find his blind face lifted precisely through that golden circle. That is the likelihood, the teachings say, that a person living at random will experience a “perfect human rebirth,” a birth in which one is born into that very precise set of situations in which one might be able to find a true path to Enlightenment, appreciate its value in time, and practice it to its end.  
We do find our way to birth, of course, again and again  reaching blindly for life. The lamas say we are born as insects,  as animals, as hell beings, as hungry spirits,  or even as  long-lived gods who are condemned to exhaust their wonderful karma in the course of long pleasant years and descend again to a hellish next life.  Once in a very great while, we take birth as a human being. This, they  emphasize,  is the most fortunate of births, for it provides the critical elements of incentive and choice that the others lack: the incentive of enough suffering that one yearns to find a way out of it, and occasionally,  a real chance to change one’s course, if only one can figure out which way to go.  Being born into a human life, it is as if the tortoise, just a little, cracks open those blind eyes and sees where he was, yet still has no knowledge of even the existence of a gold ring, let alone its whereabouts. And human birth contains its own perils. One may be born in a place of constant danger, warfare or criminality. One may be born crippled, or ill, or into great poverty, where one’s only thought each day is to find a way to live to the next. One may be born with ordinary comforts, but waste the precious days of life pursuing phantoms of desire or anger, or simple trivia, clutching at appearances with no more essence than smoke until the day one’s own body fails, and in hours or days, is turned again to dust.  One may be born rich and comfortable, but into a family or a culture which places no value on wisdom. In many human situations, one may be encouraged, even forced, into actions which take one down again, to the the lowest realm of that endless sea of births and deaths. And the misery goes on. When I look back on my life, therefore, I see it as rare good fortune to have stumbled upon the signposts  I did. I was, after all, traveling blind.

Signpost #1: It is 1971 and I am 23 years old, leaning against a wall in a bus station in Amsterdam. In my lap I hold a book by the Bengali poet Rabindinrath Tagore. I smile with pure pleasure as i visualize life in ancient India by the flickering light of his imagery and metaphors.
Ah, who was it coloured that little frock, my child, and covered
your sweet limbs with that little red tunic?
You have come out in the morning to play in the courtyard,
tottering and tumbling as you run.
But who was it colored that little frock, my child?
What is it makes you laugh, my little life-bud?
Mother smiles at you standing on the threshold.
She claps her hands and her bracelets jingle, and you dance
with your bamboo stick in your hand like a tiny little shepherd.
From Rabindinrath Tagore “The Unheeded Pageant”
I have never found a writer who delights me more. I have carried the book with me for weeks, my secret treasure. But on that day, distracted by the crowd as I rise, I lose it. Yet even as I mourn, that very same day I find another book, left behind by another traveler. It is Evans Wentz’s Tibetan Book of the Dead. In the end it is this second book I carry the rest of the journey, and struggle to understand when I read.
“O nobly-born, listen. Now thou art experiencing the Radiance of the Clear Light of Pure Reality. Recognize it. O nobly-born, thy present intellect, in real nature void, not formed into anything as regards characteristics or colour, naturally void, is the very Reality, the All-Good. Thine own intellect, which is now voidness, yet not to be regarded as of the voidness of nothingness, but as being the intellect itself, unobstructed, shining, thrilling, and blissful, is the very consciousness, the All-good Buddha. Thine own consciousness, not formed into anything, in reality void, and the intellect, shining and blissful, -- these two, -- are inseparable. The union of them is the Dharma-Kāya state of Perfect Enlightenment.”  
From The Tibetan Book of the Dead Or the After-Death Experiences on the Bardo Plane
English translation by Lāma Kazi Dawa-Samdup Compiled and Edited by W. Y. Evans-Wentz

Signpost 2:  It is 1973 and I am 25-years old, living  in Hermosa Beach, California,  in a  house I share with my father. Curious, I have purchased  a book called The Pillars of Zen and read a few pages. I  close the book, pleased with its clear instructions, and prop it in the windowsill of my tiny gabled bedroom window. The breaking edge of the Pacific is far away and barely visible, the restless immensity of the ocean lost in the dark beyond.   I am alone in the house, my father out for the evening, but I think I have the idea now, of how to meditate. I  straighten my back, setting my legs and hands in the cross-legged pose described by the book. I lower my chin to gaze with half-closed eyes in front of me.  I light a candle and stare into it, hoping for magic. The room blurs. The fire grows large and fuzzy as my staring eyes grow moist. My heart pounds briefly with expectation. The angels stay away.

Soon after that I began the second of my long journeys. This time I headed west, across the Pacific, working my way towards the Asia. I was 26, and had $2000 dollars I had saved to round the world.  My parents fretted, but traveling like this as a young person without a real itinerary or a plan  is a rare opportunity to open oneself to change, to possibility, even to a kind of magic. You skim above myriad set  lives, each rooted in place as solidly as if their legs extended into the earth, while  you feel your own self so remarkably unbound, the whole fixed world wheeling beneath you. There is an endless array of dangers as well of course, and any door you walk through at that age is likely to shape your entire life to come. But you don’t know that yet.
I went to Hawaii,  to Western Samoa, to Fiji, and at last to New Zealand where I worked in a hospital for brain-damaged children in Nelson for three months. I lived in a ramshackle old house at the  head of the sound, sharing with, a vibrant, kind, gay man I had met long before on the kibbutz in Israel. Eventually, coffers replenished from the expenses of the first leg,  I took off, hitchhiking the country.

Signpost 3 I am on the North Island, working my way northwest, towards the ancient Kauri forests and Land’s End, a spit of sand that extends like a god’s finger, pointing north. It is mid-afternoon and I know I must stop soon. I look up the next youth hostel in my tattered traveler’s book. Not far. A car stops for me,  a bright-eyed man at the wheel. “I live nearby, he tells me, “several people and I, on a commune.” I am intrigued. He asks if I would like to see it and, with the fearlessness of youth, I readily agree. In a movie, perhaps, he would turn out to be an ax murderer, and I a fool. But in real life, good people are far more common than in movies, and he certainly is one.  He drives me up the long drive, and on the way he begins to tell me his story. He established this place, he says, for those who, like him, are looking for the way to Enlightenment.
I frown, not at all sure what this means. More than blurry candles?
Recently, he continues, he had a life-changing experience with meditation. For years he has practiced what he knows of the Zen tradition of Buddhism, gathering ideas from books. And then one recent day - staggeringly, he found himself standing at some inner brink. He knew, without doubt, if he went one step further, he would lose himself forever.  After so long an effort, he did not hesitate. He went the final step.
I study his face as he struggles to express what that moment was like. “Like dying,” he manages at last, “and like finally waking up.”. There is joy in his wide open eyes, as if the experience still fills him from within.
“Do you want to stay here with us?” he asks abruptly.
A feeling is growing in me, a powerful emotion I can hardly name.  I open my mouth to say yes.
But then he hesitates. “No,” he says.  We should wait for a sign that it is right.” He turns the car around and goes back to the drive entry point. “Stand back on the road and hold out your thumb,” he instructs me.  I’ll wait just back here. If the next car does not pick you up, you can stay.”
I get out, clutching my backpack and stare at his backing car and then at the road east, the road from which I have come. Wait for a sign?  I want so very much to be allowed to stay with this magical person. To learn what he means by “waking up.” All day I have hitchhiked, and each ride has been preceded by a hundred or more cars that did not stop for me. I look now at the darkening highway and see the the lights of someone coming. Obedient to my new friend, I hold out my thumb, willing the approaching car to ignore me, to  pass by. But it does not pass by. Horrified, I glance back at the Zen man as a couple opens the door for me and gestures. I cannot see his face as his car engine starts up, but a hand comes out of his window to wave good-bye. The door of my ride closes me in and only with the greatest difficulty do I manage to tell them I need to go to the youth hostel.  The piercing feeling, for the first time, has come at night.  

I have written elsewhere in this memoir, of my first real lecture in Buddhism in Thailand and the overwhelming effect it had on me. But even after that, the turtle was still traveling blind. When I arrived in Nepal in the spring of 1973, my future teachers of Tibetan Buddhism were only a short bus ride away, and even as I arrived, were starting a now historic course for westerners on a hill called Kopan. Most of the community of people I now call Buddhist friends attended this course. Yet when I heard of it, in a hotel in Kathmandu, I was not aroused to investigate. Instead I curled up on a cushion on the rooftop lounge area, reading the book provided by Phra Khantipalo. After a few days, I went north to Pokhara and there conceived a naive desire to hike in the Himalayas. With, in hindsight, an astonishing lack of preparation, I did not even carry food with me, nor a tent, nor purchase good shoes nor a real coat. I started up the two week trail to Jomson, a half way point to the Kingdom of Mustang, in my flip flops, long dress and a sweater carried in a light backpack. confident the occasional tea shops along the trail would provide and, even more foolishly,  that the mountains would be as warm as the valleys.  Fortunately for me a handsome young man named Scott Taylor soon became a fellow walker. He shared his plastic tarp when it rained, and his onions and potatoes, boiled in a pot, when we did not always make it to the next tea shop.
My fragile attraction to Buddhism was set aside by a growing infatuation for Scott. We made it only  four days up the trail. Then, plagued by hail storms, and  for him, stomach troubles, we doubled back to Kathmandu. Instead of mountains, we explored the medieval streets and the ancient wooden temples where saddhus gathered with tridents and red-hennaed hair, staring at nothing with their otherworldly gaze. We smoked hashish with other western travelers on rooftops, where Scott  pulled out the violin he carried and sent passionate string music up to wheeling flocks of starlings and out to the distant white peaks of the Himalaya. I fell in love, and when he left, unwilling to form a more permanent liaison, I staggered under the loss. I slept for three days, got up to walk for miles, and slept again. All thoughts of Buddhism left  my mind. The turtle had lost her way again.
Still in taciturn mourning, I made my way across India and the Middle East toward Europe, traveling first to Delhi with a group of cheerful English boys, and then west with a Finnish couple in a VW van. With them, I explored the Taj Mahal, and a mosque in Peshawar, helped pay off bandits who stopped our car in the outback of Afghanistan,  and watched Mt. Ararat recede in a moonlit sky as we entered Turkey. At last, from a Greek youth hostel, I waved good-bye as their battered VW  turned northward toward Finland. At each stop I had written  long hopeful letters back to Scott and waited fruitlessly for poste restante workers to search through boxes holding travelers’ mail.  Once, in Athens, I thought I saw him on a street, though whoever it was did not acknowledge my startled wave and disappeared in the crowd. My mother arrived and I went with her on a tour of Greek Islands ending in Crete. While we stayed in a pleasant Cretan hotel, we learned that the Greek government had declared war on Turkey, and from the top floor of the hotel, we searched the horizon for sign of the US 6th fleet sailing by, headed for the main battleground off Cypress. Restaurants stopped serving Americans, banks closed, ferries stopped. Trucks from the mountain villages roared by filled with young military recruits.  A week later we were evacuated as war refugees as the Greek military dictatorship fell. On a day during which the entire population of Athens walked to the airport to greet the triumphantly returning politician Karamanlis, my mother and I, oblivious to history in the making, caught a train north. We  crossed Europe, crossed America, and finally, at long last, came home to California. Now exhausted, ill, and without funds, no longer a traveler, I finally received Scott’s answering letter. “Where are you? He asked cheerily from Italy. Want to get together again and travel somewhere?”
It was another wrong door not taken - though clearly not by any choice of mine.

Signpost #4  It is 1975 and I have been home for a year,  working at a string of barely tolerable jobs, living with my father in Hermosa Beach. Reading the LA Times one morning, I stumble on a column. John Schwartz, a minor director in Hollywood at the time, has talked to a young man, Chuck Thomas, newly returned from India with a riveting tale of young  western backpackers, traveling the exotic orient at random, who had encountered a Tibetan Buddhist lama and invited him to come and teach in Los Angeles. Indeed he is giving a talk that very night, in Westwood near UCLA where I had gone to school. I decide to go.
I still remember that first talk, the overwhelming effect on me of the gentle laughing man who sat in front of the room. Lama Yeshe’s  English was barely serviceable in those early years, yet his ability to speak directly to the hearts of young westerners was already spot on. For long minutes he would sit in silence, eyes closed or rolled back, and then return to the room with a roguish smile and rake our faces with a fierce loving gaze. He spoke of dissatisfaction, of the suffering of our restless lives. Everything we now struggled to gain would, he told us, eventually be lost: relationships, pleasure, status, belongings, even our memories of beauty. “I love my chocolate! I love this flower!” He would say, holding up an imaginary blossom and nearly swooning with delight. Then his face would fall into melodramatic sorrow as the visualized flower wilted and its petals fell to the ground. He invited us to think not only of our pleasures but our own lives as this flower. This was hard to believe with conviction at twenty something but we tried hard. He talked of a path out of sorrow and dissatisfaction, one he would walk with us if we dared trust him. He challenged us, the children of an age steeped in scientific agnosticism, to try belief and faith. He knew how hard it would be for most of us to accept what he had to tell us at face value. “Eventually, I want you to check everything I tell you against reality, just as a man checks for real gold in the market. But for now, put your doubt on the shelf,”  he urged us. “Allow yourself to try out the teachings as if everything I say is exactly true. Give yourself a year, pretending they are true, and see what happens.”   It was exactly the key I needed to begin.
I went from that talk to walk alone on a nighttime  beach where two years before I had started my long stumble towards Buddhism. My whole body was humming. I felt, as Annie Dillard wrote in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, “I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”  I went to the retreat at Arrowhead that Lama Yeshe had urged on us and later attended another at Yucca Valley when he returned for a second visit. Though I moved to Mt Shasta for a year after that, as I described in another story, this time I did not forget Buddhism. In 1976, I came south again, and eagerly helped in the first stages of the  establishment of Vajrapani Institute and the coming together of the the community that would sustain it. 
Thus, in encounters ever so unlikely was the ring found. And ever so gently has the ring settled, slipping over my head and onto my shoulders. The turtle found her way home.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Winter poems

Muzzled, and the light wavers
ghosts of sea storms and broken
Kathy is dead, gone before me to
the unknown land
or the no land
and the past heaves and the future worries
and the young skitter past

Will we ever find spring again?
Look into mirrors at unscarred brows
and hazeled eyes eager to see and see
Kathy saw and would not look away
every day,
from the fracturing of fairy tales,
in that dark cave of unsung endings.
She saw pain like a flooding ocean, 
weaving rot and acid
over young lives turned old,
trapped in detritus and foam.
She burned with love, wrangled cats,
anguished in the corner of her bookstore,
curled over this computer
stunned and too human to live to old age.

It was too hard to be an angel.

Santa Cruz Dec 27, 2015


disconnect at the outset
paradigm wiggle
setback on the head set
dreamscapes hit by drumbeats
backside to the camera
and where will the heart rest
where will the heart ...

Earnest concerns for health and exercise
Volleyball team sign ups
Tulip sales and traffic snarls
After school tutoring and fundraiser galas
While far away, yet right in front of us
a stranger catches a child
hurtling down a bombed street
escaping the blood horror
of a dying mother

Men howl despair
looking back on a sea
that has swallowed a toddler.
In the arms of strangers,
small bodies shake
with the shock of all fears
and the cold of winter
on an alien shore
And the rubber boats deflate
as the hustlers disappear
We click next on a baby bear
So cute

Knives prepare for forks
neat chunks of Denny’s two for one breakfast
bits of pigs so recently slaughtered,
screaming their panic,
that somewhere
a truck ride away,
the walls still echo the story
of each life sealed in
hard metal bars,
filled with black dreams,
now ended in a tempest of pain.
Bacon please,
so tasty.

Santa Cruz Dec 30, 2015

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

In Memory of Kathy Epling
gone from us June 14, 2015

Cesca's talk at her Garberville memorial
July 19, 2015

I met Kathy in 1964 when we were both students at Santa Monica High School. I remember being invited to her house –  improbably like a poster for “house beautiful” of the 1950s – and sat on her bed as she excitedly shared pictures of her childhood in Japan and other places her father had taken the family in his military career.  We became instant friends that day, We stayed friends through college at UCLA and, as our lives took us to different places, through a correspondence and occasional visits which lasted our whole lives.  In my life there has been no one else I could talk to like Kathy, and she with me. I thought of her as my sister.

I hope in all the stories today we will all get a better sense of the whole of her life, but there is one important thing  I do want to say about her.  I believe in her too brief life Kathy Epling achieved something very rare in today’s world. She became a great soul. A mahatma.  There are many extraordinary things about her life worth remembering but to me that is the most important.

Kathy was extraordinary even as a teenager and twenty something – according to an indiscrete counselor, she was the person with the highest IQ in Santa Monica High School with its thousands of students. But Kathy was also an empath and sometimes a psychic so sensitive we joked that I didn’t even have to let her know when I was coming to visit, she would dream it, for she often did.  In her twenties as she and I moved to different places and began a life long correspondence, she reported she sometimes saw ghosts, heard voices. In her early and middle years she channeled that powerful sensitivity into poetry and later essays that are some of the best I’ve ever encountered anywhere, though they have yet to be put into book form. I hope that can happen one day. She was published many times in national publications and won one of the national prizes for poetry one year. An extraordinary collection of her more recent work is still online in the archives of her two blogs, Outside the Windows and Jarvenpa’s Notebooks.

Kathy was a quiet rebel who simply would not accept the models and rules society presented for her.  In the normal course of life, brilliant as she was, she would likely have gotten a PhD in Literature, taught at an Eastern college, become a prestigious poet, married a professor, gone to conferences and cocktail parties.  She got a taste of that life following her first love Hillel to Europe and Connecticut in the 60’s, but in the end, she chose none of it. She followed where her heart lead, to be with her soul friend and teacher Sally Constantino when she moved with her children Ann and Frank to Garberville. Kathy came here first to share their life by the river, and then to live  in town cleaning motel rooms at first, then working in the Orange Cat Bookstore with Garth’s father, John. As with Paul, she chose not to marry. It simply never made sense to her that the state should have any say in whom she loved or what their relationship meant.

I know the  children she had with John and later with Paul were a revelation to Kathy.  She took total delight in all three, birthing them at home with her midwife or trying to. She named them as only a poet could, Garth, Laurel Calypso, Gabriel Merlin. They were with her every day throughout their childhoods, since she decided not to send them to school where she feared they might be dulled or regimented. She read them a thousand books. Showed them how to garden and love animals. She encouraged each step they took into life, in whatever direction they wanted to go. She nurtured them to grow and become as naturally as the flowers she planted, finding what interested them in the wealth of literature and high level conversation that flowed through her houses.  But they changed her even more.
From Outside the Windows blog Feb 2013 “One Starfish at a Time” 

“When my first child was born after long days of labor, I was not prepared for the all engulfing love that surged through me as I held him, small, wide-eyed, fresh to this world.
It was like a shock to the heart.
Suddenly the world I had made it through okay for three decades, careless & wandering—suddenly that world was filled with hard corners and sharp edges I had never noticed. And threats from things far away (I remember thinking “must get involved now in anti-draft organizing”). And beauty, of course. Always beauty.
He was so small, six pounds of determined life, held against my skin.
He thrived and is thriving and this isn’t really about him, or about his lovely siblings, each of whom came with their own independent renewal of wonder and love and their primal reminders of how fragile our life is. His sister, but for the skills of our midwife, might have ended her life and mine on that beautiful spring day…we walked very close to the edge, and came back treasuring this life all the more. His little brother blessed us all with the peace of a wise, wild, unique soul.
I have been very lucky in my life. But the edges are always there for me; once your heart has cracked open it’s just no use trying to shut down again. The world floods through, your love floods out, you try to figure out…how do you deal with death and war and cruelty? How do you pile up enough beauty and kindness, enough hugs and “you really are okay” to sweeten an entire world that sometimes seems bent on…oh, the most absurd, the most terrible things?”

She wrote her poems during this time one line at a time, between motherhood and steady hard work.  And she did more. She published a unique hand-made catalogue of books for expectant and new mothers that became a part of the lives of hundreds of women. In it she shared their stories of motherhood and her own, wrote loving poems, shared recipes and advice. And began to be shaped by the experience in ways she never expected. When Gabriel was born, she never once flinched from the commitment he would need from her: over thirty years of intense and ever-increasing daily care by the time she died. In all her letters to me, she never once made a single complaint.  What she did share was her love and delight in him, expanding each year of his life.

In the course of healing Gabe of his many childhood illnesses, Kathy taught herself homeopathy and worked for years with her friend Dr. Ron to help and successfully heal others throughout the community.  A girl who had once been labeled by an excited teacher as a future scientist, instead also made herself an expert in astrology, giving long elaborate readings for others, not because she necessarily believed in the direct influence of stars and moon but because she found that in the course of the process of doing a reading, she and the person she read for inevitably came to a more profound and helpful understanding of themselves. Astrology became another vehicle to love and empower the people around her. 

She was also quietly but adamantly politically aware. She worked with her partner Paul and others in here community to oppose the draft and fight for the Headwaters Forest. Too peaceful of heart to be shrill, Kathy told me she did not enjoy demonstrations per se, but went to them anyway when necessary. She took the phone calls from Julia Butterfly in her tree, and supported the many valiant others who used their bodies to protect the forest giants. She and Paul offered sanctuary to young men evading the drafts of three wars, and, for years with Paul, gathered articles, wrote articles and poems, did the layout and printed Greenfuse one of the most unique political voices in America. For those decades of war, Kathy also  went out, rain or shine, to stand in quiet witness to man’s acts of inhumanity with the Women in Black.  She worked for decades on the alternative medicine clinic board to keep the clinic open. She went to the Midwest to tenderly help each of her parents in turn to die, and her relatives to carry on.

But I think it was in her last years, Kathy became the great soul I described in the beginning. As you know, her life became focused in the Tiger Lily bookstore she shared with Paul. Never was nor will be an enterprise more different from the corporate model. The two had long ago made the conscious choice never to make enough money to pay taxes that might be used to fund war or governmental violence in any form. Their store was instead a crossroads of love, shared stories, joy in literature and history and philosophy and constant unceasing efforts on behalf of others and the forests around them. Books were shared and discussed with enthusiasm, as often given away or exchanged as sold. There was free fruit for the hungry, warm socks or a blanket for someone who arrived cold, non-existent money somehow found to bail a beloved dog out of the pound. Efforts were made to find lost relatives, or medical care and shelter for a baby born to a homeless mother, or just provide encouragement to a sad friend locked in a distant prison. In her spare time, Kathy took trowel in hand and went out to plant flowers in every bit of bare neglected patch of earth she found. Lost animals were taken in and others promoted for homes on the internet. And so much more.

In these intense last years, Kathy, never closed herself off to the pain others felt,  even when, at times like the recent oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico,  it literally almost killed her. She never ever saw people as losers or broken. She saw them always as their best selves, working with what life had thrown at them. She would do anything in her power to help them or rejoice with them, or just enjoy a passage in a book together or a new rose growing outside the window. My own path has made me a Buddhist, and there is much discussion of compassion, loving kindness, and empathetic joy in Buddhism. But in all my years, I have never met a single person who incarnated these qualities more than Kathy Epling. She developed her heart over long years in this community, not through any religious practice, but by the simple practice of paying attention to each person in front of her.  The flashes of intellectual arrogance or self pity she sometimes, very humanly, showed in her youth faded away. It was love that simply filled her in her later years. She became the community’s story teller, social worker, peace maker in confrontations, wise woman, friend to all. When someone in the community once called her an enabler, she answered this way,

“I want to reclaim the term "enabler", she wrote.  “I want to proudly say "yep, I do enable people, I do help them, I am not ashamed of this. I invite you to join me." When we are tiny, someone holds our hands to help us as we take our first tentative steps. They enable us to dance and run and climb. If we are fortunate, someone sometime patiently sits with us, and helps us trace letters, and make sounds, and the whole world of literacy, books, mind-adventures bursts open for us. If we are lucky, when we find ourselves lost, someone stops and points the way. I have been very lucky in my life. So now, when a man tells me, though he is a strapping big kid, that he doesn't read very well, no one taught him, he was tossed from foster care to foster care and dumped out, and gosh, he'd like to learn more--I am happy to give him books, simple books, and take a moment. When a girl trembling with cold comes to my doorway I am happy to give her a warm coat or a blanket or whatever. When a scared kid who has just tried to kill himself comes to me, I listen with all my heart and tears in my eyes and if there is something I can give or some connection I can make, then I do it. I have been so richly blessed in the opportunities in my life and I am so happy to be a channel to pass on those blessings, or those cups of water, or those sweet apples. I want to be the enabler who lets someone see another day. I want to enable life and love and happiness and connection. Don't we all want this? So to friends who say "yes, but you know you are an enabler, Kathy" I say "damn right, and proud of it"

So what happens when such an essential human being is torn so shockingly away from us? Does she go on to another life? Buddhism would say she does – and with Kathy’s ocean of good karma and strong attachment to this community I would not be at all surprised to see an unusually radiant child born among you sometime soon. Does she go to heaven? Christians, I think would say, few people could have earned it more – and Kathy was a Christian, most at home in the Society of Friends.   Or perhaps  it was that stark simple oblivion we all fear that took her away after a few missed breaths. But I personally find it very hard to believe a mind so filled with knowledge and commitment and love could simply become nothing – there is, after all no other kind of energy in nature that becomes nothing. Everywhere we look, both matter and energy simply change form, cycle back, renew and reshape themselves endlessly. But even if Kathy herself is no longer in hailing distance, what is still very much present is the impact she left behind in each one of us who loved her. My friend truly was a mahatma, a great soul, in how she changed each of us, enabled us to be better people, and reminded us how to pay attention to the beauty in each person in front of us. That is the part of her that is not lost. That is what we will have of her as long as we live.