Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Dear Mom,

This is your eldest son Kevin. Wherever you are, I hope you remember me.

Life has been rough the past few years since you stepped through that Great Door. But I think I'm getting myself back together, now, bit by bit. There's still a lot for me to work on; this self-improvement stuff isn't as easy as it looks.

But at least I can say I'm no longer curled up in a fetal position, either physically or mentally. My current job has been good to me that way: it obliges me to interact with kids, and that interaction has tugged me, gently, back into the stream of human existence. It's not just the job, of course: it's also through the kindness and love of my brothers and best friends that I've come back, more or less, to myself.

I'm putting up this little tribute to you, partly as a way to help myself. Quite a few people have told me that I need to be focusing on all the good things, the happy things, about your life.

They say I shouldn't be focused on your final months, on your cancer and your terrible decline. So I'm putting up these pictures of happier moments from your life—a little something from each decade.

Yes, some of these pictures make me smile. You were so alive, so much the center of activity. You were the gravity that held us all together. Even now, over three years after the cancer took you, it's hard to believe that you're gone.

A famous American Zen monk named Hyeon Gak wrote a comment on my other blog, two days after you had passed away. He said:

Dear Kevin--

I heard about your Mom's passing from this body. Having sometimes seen your accounts over the years, I know what a powerful influence she was on you. When the mother of one of my American brother monks passed away several years ago after a long illness, the monk was surprised how hard it struck him in the gut, despite years of intense meditation and spiritual practice. When he told Zen Master Seung Sahn, our Teacher replied, "Right now your Mother is teaching you the true meaning of the Diamond Sutra! Open your eyes! Open your ears!" So, I hope that you are open to what your Mother is teaching YOU, right NOW, in this moment -- don't miss this opportunity to receive her wonderful Dharma speech of life and death, OK? Spend time with this teaching, absorb it, not intellectually, but in finding time to settle down alone and be with your breathing and just ASK and LOOK.

I will chant for her and for you and your family from the tiny Zen center I have started here in Bavaria. Tonight, I will ask our members to join me in doing Special Chanting for her as part of our regular Friday night practice, and every practice time for the 49 days.

In the Dharma,

Hyon Gak Sunim (Ven.) -- formerly of Hwa Gye Sah Temple, Seoul International Zen Center

I admit I haven't been particularly disciplined about settling down with my breathing, but I do ask, Mom, and I do look. And I often ponder what lesson it was you've been teaching me during your healthy years, while you were dying, and after you had gone. I don't doubt that, in some obscure way, you're teaching me still. Maybe the answer lies in the next picture which, despite my desire to focus on happier times, I've pulled from your final months with brain cancer:

When I look at the above picture, I see you trying so hard to smile. Trying, for the sake of others, to put on a brave face, despite the cancer's erosion of your ability to emote. Just like when you sang "Happy Birthday" to me on my 40th birthday, even though you were the one with a head full of cancer, you were there for me, making that effort. And that's been one of the underlying themes of your life: being there for other people. Really, it's the same lesson I learned on my own during your cancer: the sacred importance of presence. In the end, nothing else matters.

But I don't for a moment think that, having derived this one lesson from your life, that's the end of the story. If what you're teaching me is a living lesson, then that lesson necessarily has the properties of a living thing: like a living thing, the teaching grows and expands, always changing from moment to moment. So it's not a matter of listening once and taking away a single truth: it's really a matter of always listening, always being attentive.

Because the teaching never stops. And if the source of teaching is love, then the love never stops, either.

Thank you, Mom, for always teaching me, for always being there. I'll do what I can to be worthy of your memory. That is, after all, the very least I can do.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you.




  1. Thanks for sharing this, Kevin. Very moving.

  2. I appreciate your reflections on mom and her life. My father passed of cancer a long time ago too, and while my relationship to my father was probably very different from your relationship to your mom, my heart goes out to your loss. I guess we are perpetually possessed by the memories of our parents, both good and bad. Good luck with the job search in Korea! I hope you end up with a job of your liking there.

  3. Thanks for the kind comment. I'm sorry to hear that your dad died of cancer. And yes, there will always be a little room in my heart that's reserved just for Mom.



All comments are subject to approval before they are published, so they will not appear immediately. Comments should be civil, relevant, and substantive. Anonymous comments are not allowed and will be unceremoniously deleted. For more on my comments policy, please see this entry on my other blog.

AND A NEW RULE (per this post): comments critical of Trump's lying must include criticism of Biden's lying on a one-for-one basis! Failure to be balanced means your comment will not be published.