August 9, 2008
Last weekend, we were invited to spend a few days with an old friend of Christopher's in the Catskill mountains. It just so happened that we stayed about 15 miles away from the Zen monastery where Chris lived for four years back in the late '80s. And it also just so happened that the day we arrived, it was Obon, which is a Japanese Buddhist holiday to honor the deceased spirits of one's ancestors. We had the good fortune of being invited to participate in the ceremony, which included chanting, lighting incense, putting grains of rice in a special bowl, and lighting a beautiful paper lantern that we inscribed with Natalie's name and my father's using a traditional calligraphy brush and ink.
The night was cool, but as clear as could be. There were millions of brilliant stars and an amazingly bright perfect half moon. The ceremony culminated with a procession of everyone carrying their lantern down to the lake where they were floated out onto the water. Finally, a huge bonfire was lit, symbolizing the release of our beloved's spirits. I wept as I watched the flames go up into the black night. It is supposed to be a time of letting go, but I can't let Natalie go. I don't want to. Despite being very tired after the long drive, I felt at peace in that place at that time. Honoring Natalie and my dad together in this way was very special, too, since my dad had spent two years in Japan following World War II. Japan is an integral part of my family's history and is in our hearts in so many ways. I know for Chris, returning to the monastery was like going home. It was an emotional reunion with many dear old friends. I was happy to be a part of it.
Throughout the whole thing, Roslyn was so well behaved. She bowed when she was supposed to bow. She followed along as we fumbled our way through the ceremony. At one point as we sat on our round meditation cushions, she leaned over and whispered, "these cushions are really comfy, aren't they mommy?" Oh, I could have eaten her right up. Even as we lingered well past the midnight hour, and my poor girl was so, so tired, she didn't complain. Chris and I were both very proud.
As we made our way along the winding dirt road up to the monastery, which really is in the middle of nowhere, I asked Chris if there were any bears in those woods. He said he'd only heard of one sighting in all of his time there. Not more than five minutes later, a black bear cub ambled across the road. We all saw it and were really excited. The next day, Chris and I drove back to the monastery while Roslyn stayed behind with his friend, Valerie, and we saw a coyote cross the road, in about the same place as the bear. The next day, we went one last time and this time, there was a dead coyote in the road. Signs? I don't know. Chris's wise old Zen teacher thought so.