30 July 2009

The dire muck and the sun

The damage done by this event keeps radiating out.

Please note that this blog isn't entirely caught up with where I am. I've spent quite a lot of time studying Zen Buddhism at the Zen Center of Los Angeles. I will be filling in the steps that have led me to this point in the next month so, apologies if the names and concepts in this post seem out of the blue. This also allows me to remind you to check in the so-called archives of past posts as you'll find most of the new posts there in the weeks to come.

One of the difficult parts is that no one in my family thinks they have the right to feel as knocked to our knees as we have been, as we are. This is the Burk family's tragedy, this is the tragedy of Lily's closest friends, her teachers, her intimates, not us. We can only imagine the depth of their anguish and stand on the side feeling impotent to help and, as I talk to more and more mothers and hear more and more stories about their children, I know how far and wide these feelings go, the impotence, the feeling that we don't really have the right to be as devastated as we are, as if we might somehow add to the pain of those already in unimaginable pain if we did.

And so we sit in our houses. Or we sit in other people's houses. We call. We hug our children if they want to be hugged. We feed them if they want to be fed. But we don't know what to say. We don't know what to do. There is nothing to be done.

I emailed Shingetsu and Roshi to let them know what happened. I'm not sure I would have thought to do that but I was supposed to meet with Shingetsu Monday evening - I've been working my way through the Buddhist Precepts with her - and I needed to change the schedule so I could be home at dinnertime. Roshi immediately added Lily's name to the prayer service at ZCLA. And, when I went to meet with Shingetsu, the tiny British Buddhist Sensei tossed all proper Japanese ritual to the wind at first and stood up and hugged me. Hard. She then asked if it would be all right if she added Lily's name to a list that would be chanted in a ceremony every day for forty-nine days.

"Why forty-nine days?"

"It's the bardo, the time from physical death until--" Shingetsu held her fingers up in quotes: "reincarnation."

I was grateful for Shingetsu's finger quotes, her lack of certainty about reincarnation.

But what about Lily's parents? The worst part of this is that there is absolutely nothing I can do for Lily's parents except possibly to tell you -- and anyone else who will sit still and listen -- what a truly loving, smart, and kind being Lily was, how she made people laugh and feel seen.

Shingetsu suggested lighting incense for them. We did.

I'm not entirely sure what I felt about doing any of this. A part of me felt like it wasn't my place to do this, that I should have asked someone's permission first. Another called me fraud. But still another felt just the tiniest bit of relief that there was something, anything, no matter how small or even probably irrelevant, that I could "do" when part of the true horror of this is there is nothing, nothing that can be done.

Is this part of the solace people find in ritual?

After sitting in silence with Shingetsu for a bit, we talked about the horror, about the impotence, and most of all we talked about the feeling of shame that came up about having so many feelings when the tragedy wasn't directly "ours."

"But it is our tragedy. It did happen to us, to all of us. There is no separation. This is life. This is death. It's all part of the same thing. The dire muck and the sun."

The thing is, I know this is true.


  1. Marley, I'm so sorry about your loss. Violence is incomprehensible to me. Perhaps we live in a society where not understanding violence could be perceived as a luxury by others though. I hope not. It seems completely pointless.

  2. so glad i found your blog and your entries about our dear lily.


I'm interested in any and all comments although it may take me a while to post them.