Grief: An Essay


“There isn’t a meditator who hasn’t soaked their cushion with tears,” my Zen teacher, Enkyo Roshi, once said to me. I was in Manhattan at her temple on Broadway, after my son’s mother and I had split up. As I listened to the birds and traffic, facing a white wall, I tried to concentrate on my breath. I only felt a ball of tension in my throat. I took a long inhale and the tears started to flow. When the bell rang I went to Roshi’s small white quarters and sat down and cried and cried. She just bowed. I bowed in return. I felt as though we were bowing to the tears, acknowledging the shared reality of sorrow, that my sorrow wasn’t just personal. And as painful as the separation was, everything would be okay.

I left Roshi’s temple and walked to Washington Square Park, where I lay on the grass. Light fell through the shapes of the elm trees. I picked up a magazine and came across a speech Kansas Senator John James Ingalls gave in 1972, called “In Praise of Bluegrass”:

Grass is the forgiveness of nature—her constant benediction. Fields trampled with battle, saturated with blood, torn with rust of cannon, grow green again with grass, and carnage is forgotten. Streets abandoned by traffic become grass-grown like rural lands, and are obliterated. Forests decay, harvests perish, flowers vanish, but grass is immortal.

Lying there, exhausted from the loss of my partner, I watched the tree branches barely moving against a wide-open sky. I cried. I thought about the ocean, then the salty water off the coast of Crete where we used to take our son just after he started walking.

If the vastness of the oceans shows us the shared depths of our grief, the power of the grass to grow and regrow shows us its future—the way forward of life after death…

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