I never get to learn anything that’s important, slowly – it is ALWAYS a trial by fire. Professionally, I am always thrown in the deep end to learn how to swim – whether by virtue of the absence of a trainer or by odd circumstances that force me to familiarize myself with a company and its staff. My first 2 weeks at Disney On Ice involved locating a skater from one of our international tours, who was vacationing in between tour cities, somewhere between Singapore and Thailand. She had a family emergency at home in Vancouver and her mother found ME through the matrix of possible phone numbers. Within 48 hours, I knew the staffs of half a dozen touring ice shows, everyone in the entire international department and some of the most influential names in the company – and one skater and her mom.
I could bore you with example after example of professional trials by fire. I had to learn how to cook for myself by age 12, how to do my laundry, how to run a lawn mower. So, why would Buddhism be any exception?
Here, I had JUST begun to accept that learning the basics of Buddhism like understanding the Seven Line Prayer and the difference between a sangha and samsara would require that I slow down to receive Dharma. I had JUST begun to understand how wholly unprepared I am as a brand new student to support someone who is dying in the many rituals and prayers that help them leave their current life for the next one. And then the next trial by fire began.
On April 5, I lost a dear friend to lung cancer. Her name was Karen Travis Evered. She was life and light itself. We didn’t know each other longboat we knew each other long enough to know that we were connected. We didn’t know how and we wanted to figure it out. We never got the chance. Her death was a blow.
Death in Buddhism is a BIG DEAL. All the prayers, blessings, ceremonies, Dharma teachings, and meditations are for the purpose of preparing you for death. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Not the death part, the next life part. Will you learn enough about enlightenment, compassion, impermanence, and suffering to “trade up” into our rebirth? Will we be lucky enough to be reborn human, to get another chance to attain enlightenment? Buddhism also teaches us to be less afraid of the end of this life – to accept that it is as natural in our lifetime as the color of our eyes and nothing is to be feared.
I was so new to Buddhism when Karen died, when i wanted to pray for her family and grieve, I didn’t know who to pray to. I didn’t know what to ask for. I had to run to the temple and ask.
I knew enough to know that there were procedures to helping her spirit leave its body and not distract the dying by speaking to them, and that I was nowhere near qualified enough to do any of that. I couldn’t have had I wanted to anyway – she was already gone.
So, what then? Dedicate every prayer I say to her merit (and the benefit of all sentient beings of course). Learn the Amitaba prayer and say that often. Ask the ordained to say a P’howa in her honor. Sponsor a tsog. What does all that mean? Honestly? At the moment Gunpo and Ani Aileen made these suggestions, I was willing to do anything without question. Any effort to help her was also an effort to help me feel less sad about her absence.