On the Death of a Former Spouse

Last evening I was rummaging around the web when I came across an obituary from 2009 for my first wife.

We had not spoken since our son’s funeral in 1997.

I have to admit I was shocked. She was sixty-two at the time of her death, which while within the arc of normal life expectancy, is still on the younger end. It appears she had a number of health issues toward the end.

We had been pushed into a marriage by our Zen teacher the late Jiyu Kennett Roshi. An act I’ve never forgotten, and even all these many years later, not fully forgiven.

I find myself thinking of the mysteries of causality, of how small things can live on in consequences undreamed of.

As a spiritual director I’ve been very reluctant to require or even to express preferences with those I guide on the way. In large part I’m sure this has to do with my personal disposition, and not far behind by my “philosophy” of teaching. But, I believe there’s more than a small part in the mix that traces directly to that marriage and the consequences that followed for a number of people.

Of course, my reluctance to direct undoubtedly has had negative as well as salutary consequences. I particularly regret however I’ve been a link in a causal chain between Kennett Roshi’s enthusiastic control of people’s lives and my largely hands off style that has hurt people on the way.

We are such a bundle of contradictions and mixed consequences, moving along the arc of our individual lives as part of larger arcs of community and species.

It can be hard to see any free will in all this.

And truthfully, I think there’s less than most of us wish there might be. In a larger sense, in fact, as we are all completely conditioned, there is no free will. Once things started in motion, some hypothetical entity with a sufficiently high powered calculator, could theoretically predict where it all will go.

Of course, there is a sense in which that is just a variation on the way we humans think. Time itself and that arc appears to be a useful way to see the universe, but not intrinsically true.

Still, in the corner of the universe where we actually live, we encounter the world as nouns. You. That. Me.

And here in this corner of the universe, what we do has consequences.

And we can choose. Do this. Or that. Refrain from doing this. Or, that.

And here we have some rough guidance along the way.

We’re unique, each of us, never to be repeated.

And, we’re all part of some big family, connected by that web of actions and reactions.

And so what we do or refrain from doing counts. Even when we’re not sure, and can’t be sure, of what will follow.

So pay your money. And take your chance.

That’s the price of life…

I think of Kennett Roshi, and of my first wife, of our child, of the hurts and joys that flowed out of our marriage. A running that has not run out yet…

And I’m glad Leah found a love who stood with her for something approaching three decades, and who was with her at the end. Thank you Bob.

I wish something along those lines for all of us.

Seeing clearly or not so much into the matter of our individual lives, and seeing clearly or not so much, into the matter of our unity within the boundlessness; and acting from that place as best we can.

And from there hold with open hands…

Here the whole mess is revealed.

And with that

Grace follows.

Hard as it can be to see it sometimes, grace does follow…

If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break: Field Notes From a Zen Life

Oh, Boy! It's Beltane!
Annie Walks on to the Stage
Do Not Deny, Do Not Forget
On the Preservation of the Species: A Mind Bubble on Earth Day
  • http://heartofflame.blogspot.com Yvonne

    A brave and important post – thank you.

    I always try to avoid giving advice, instead preferring to ask questions. Why do you want to do X? Why don’t you make a list of the pros and cons and see which list is longer? What other courses of action are available to you?

    Thanks too, for the thought that not giving advice also has consequences.

    I am sorry for the passing of your ex, but glad that she found another partner.

  • http://www.newtonzen.org Jim B

    Thanks you for this post. I needed it. A friend called last week looking for help getting sober. He was in Massachusetts and I in Florida so I could do little but refer him to others. He passed away two days later. My mind has been a continuous stream of memories mixed with “could have beens, would have beens, should have beens” ever since. Things happen for reasons beyond our ability to perceive them. Thanks. I needed to be reminded.

  • Chris Amirault

    I found this post remarkably moving. Amidst the whole graceless mess, grace. Thanks.

  • tyson davis

    One of the overall best posts i have read on here. Very interesting. Very touching. Very thought-provoking. Very zen. Thank you.

  • Aaron Caruso

    Wow James. I didn’t know you had a son. It is the first I’ve ever read or heard of this part of you life.
    Thank you.


  • Cushing

    Thank you James for your candor and your bravery. I expect this is all very difficult for you to share, and as the responses indicate it is very helpful to others for you to share it. The great pain and sorrow you have experienced are palpable and many hearts embrace you.

  • http://theistsandatheists.wordpress.com Chris Schriner

    James, thank you for this hearfelt and insightful statement. — Chris Schriner

  • Anita Garey

    Dear James,
    Thank you. Your way of questioning and handling pain support me through me through my own journey.
    Love, Anita

  • http://www.boundlesswayzen.org jamesford

    Love, Anita! Love, J