Zen Abbot's Journal Vol 51 September 19, 2005 Charlotte's Way

by Norman Fischer | September 19, 2005 at 7:33 PM

From Zen Abbot's Journal Vol 51 September 19, 2005 Charlotte's Way

Spending time this month with Sybil Cooper who is dying at Hospice. She seems quite clear about what she's doing, and what's important. She is dying, that's her job right now. It is a little exciting and interesting. And what's important is love. Her son Ethan has been taking care of her and staying very close through all this. She's proud that he's capable of doing this, knows that he'll be able to go on and will be all right without her, that she's given him the best she's had to offer, has done her job, struggling as a single mother all these years. Seeing love so clearly, and having given and received love so clearly, she's content that her religious quest has been satisfied beyond all doctrines and empowerments. She's just, simply, content. She has plenty of pain which is being well controlled by drugs, but without impairing her sharpness of mind. "I'm ready to shove off into the big dark sea," she said. A literary lady, she's been reading a lot of poetry. Quoting it to me. I gave her a copy of "Blown Back" which is all about the mystery of dying. Being an old Zen student, and so close, at Hospice, to the Zen Center location, she's been getting plenty of visitors. Blanche (former abbess of Zen Center) has been to see her. "She wanted to comfort me with the Heart Sutra,"Sybil said, "so I asked her to chant it. I think it made her feel better." So many who come to comfort her, she said, really come to comfort themselves. Others, she said, are very afraid. "But there's nothing to be afraid of! Death's not scary." I told her about my recent Dharma talk on Nanchuan's cat: death is happening every moment, and, at the same time, there's no such thing as death. What we fear isn't death. It's a projection of our minds. We fill what we don't know and can't know with fearfulness. Sybil seems genuinely to see beyond this. She's suffered a lot in the last several years. So she's not fooled into thinking of death as a release or a pleasure. It can be tough work. Still, it'ok, and there's nothing to worry about. I remember years ago Sybil being — as she is now — very bright, lively, funny, firey. Red hair, big round face, sparkling eyes, full lips, a lovely smokey voice. Impish look on her face. Seeing right through you. Impossible to fool. Now she is the same except her hair is matted and gray and her complexion is sallow. But her spirit and humor are bright.


Norman Fischer