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Lions Roar : September 2006
tragically early age of fifty, just as she was completing her Ph.D. in art history. At about that time, Ed was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In spite of these pressures, he maintained his practice with the same equanimity and grace he always had. But after several years he could no longer care for Melinda at home, so he sold their house and moved to a smaller place in Santa Monica, to provide her the highest level of care. As he could no lon- ger accommodate the meditation group, Shannon, my wife, volunteered our house in the Hollywood Hills. And thus, from one day to the next, Ed’s beautiful home in Pasadena, the office, the creaking gate, the birdsong in the trees—all vanished from our lives. Fortunately, we had a nice room in our house, too. It had been recently renovated, with a fresh carpet put on the floor. The windows looked out on a scruffy, unde- veloped hill that produced a nightly sym- phony of sounds. Birds, crickets, coyotes, dogs, frogs, and owls all sang to sharpen our listening. Ed came across town every Tuesday to lead us, still using the bowl to point towards something within our own awareness. He called it “the ground of listening”—the awareness from which sounds emerge and into which they fade. Phenomena come and go, he said, but awareness abides. It is “stainless,” reflect- ing whatever appears without prejudice or residue, in the way a pond reflects the overhead flight of geese in one moment and a passing cloud in the next. For ten more years I listened. Some- times, for seconds at a time, I would vir- tually disappear into the listening, but still there was no grand breakthrough, no deep realization of the ground of being. I felt guilty for being so obtuse. “How many are the no-sounds?” Ed would ask. Crap, I didn’t know. One? Infin- ity? One for each sound? I floated some answers, but Ed merely chuckled in his affectionate way. Clearly, the ground of listening had something to do with my own awareness, that much was given, but what made it so special? Stainlessness? I still didn’t get it. Of course, there were distractions. My screenwriting career over the years had brought me mostly misery—misery and money—so I decided to get out. I cashed in our savings, borrowed money on the house, and put it all in the stock market— just in time to watch the NASDAQ crash. We lost it all. We went from being well-off to being hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt in the course of one year. My med- itation practice helped me cope with the transitory nature of wealth, but it wasn’t a great time. Plus, other serious personal and family problems conspired to push the listening meditation to the back burn- er. And then Ed’s cancer came back. Over the next several years, we watched Ed cope with prostate cancer and its vari- ous treatments with more dignity and grace than I could have imagined possible. Melinda died and he married a wonderful woman, Karen, a kind and cheerful kin- dergarten teacher who had helped him care for Melinda during those last, iden- tity-less years. As part of their wedding vows, Karen and Ed promised to be mar- ried for a hundred years, a defiant em- brace of the present moment in the face of impermanence and illness. They did have a couple of years together after that, and Ed described these as being the happiest of his life, right up until the end. As Ed grew weaker, he stopped com- ing to Tuesday night meditations. And then Shannon and I did something that might seem strange: we put our house on the market. Shannon’s mother and first husband had died in this house, and she could not bear to face another loved one’s death while living within those walls. Neither one of us wanted to walk through that room, our zendo, with Ed no longer there. We decided to get out of debt and make a big change, so we sold the house and moved to New Orleans. We said good-bye to Ed and Karen the day before we left; he hugged us and told us that he loved us. There were no recriminations