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Lions Roar : March 2014
I can hear her voice. Whenever she picked up the phone there was delight in it, ready to take on any person on the other end. No small talk. She joined you in any challenge, always wanting to understand what it is to be human. The last time I saw her, she said, “I don’t understand relation- ships.” A jaunty sigh and a headshake. Nothing ironic. And then she asked the most surprising thing: “How do you know love?” WE CALL THE STATES the first night, the second night. Katherine is still in the hospital. We gather wildflowers in the French countryside to make a fat bouquet, planting it in the middle of the retreat circle with her name on a placard. Steve tells us, “Aunt Katie sent me Rilke, Charles Olson, Laurens van der Post, Jack Kornfield, Norman Fischer. My whole childhood she sent me books. I am a writer today because of that. “She had a great sense of humor. Just three years ago, I wanted to see her zendo. She showed me around, then in front of the altar she jumped up kicking her heels together, ‘I’m the abbot, I’m the abbot,’ she sang out. “But,” Steve continues, “she could also be tough. I wore a weird long multicolored coat and she told me straightaway it looked terrible, that I didn’t need to freak people out.” I smile. Katherine had told me in detail about that conver- sation and had worried that she hadn’t handled it well. Three days into the retreat, they take her off life support. Miraculously, she keeps breathing. Her students convince the hospital to let her be in hospice at home, surrounded twenty- four hours a day by people who love her. Each night, after the last class session, Steve and I stand in the stone courtyard next to plane trees, near tall grass pas- tures and clumps of brown Limousin cows in the distance, and we try to call California in its early morning, almost half a globe away. Often our cellphone can’t make contact. We stand in the darkening shade, hearing electric noise, clasping the small metal phone to our ears. Katherine was the only one in the dharma world, who We are no different than a flower. Each gives off its radiance—then dies. My rambunctious friend, where are you now? Wherever you are, there was still so much to say. SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2014 28