My best friend, Leneah Forest, left her body on August 12. I visited her in Portland in June when she told me she was in hospice after a hospital stay. I was so glad that I had seen her and spent a good week being in her presence. We went for slow walks on her land, and sat in her garden. She told me a story about her magical linden tree that grew where she had planted a different tree. She loved the beautiful scent of the linden flowers. I massaged her feet while she rested. She didn't talk a lot. I didn't either.
I felt disoriented when I first heard the news of her passing. She was only a year older than me. It was as if someone had hit me hard on the head. I walked about in a daze - with an aching heart - for a few days. I decided to just sit with the pain and not try to distract myself from it. I told myself it was okay to have a broken heart and to mourn. My best friend was gone. Tears came.
I remember our first meeting in a beautiful Portland Park 37 years ago. I was out walking with my partner as she was with her's. Both of our partners knew each other - they were physicians, residents at the same hospital - and our paths crossed. She was dressed in a long skirt, wore birkenstocks and had a gentle strength. We became friends after that meeting. I was very busy working at the Interagency Food Bank then. She volunteered to help and eventually became my closest friend.
I remember the birth of her two beautiful daughters who now are grown and lovely women. I was dubbed their "fairy" godmother. Leneah and I talked and listened to each other's problems, joys and sadnesses. She was there for me a decade later when I split up with my partner. She invited me to live with her and her family as I figured out what my next step would be.
I decided to leave Portland about five months later and moved to Los Angeles where I married - she was my matron of honor. After that, I've lived in Hawaii, Santa Barbara, Montague (Massachusetts) and, finally, Chicago. We kept in touch with long phone conversations through all of my moves.
Whenever we talked, she urged me to move back to Portland and when I visited her a couple of months ago, she continued to suggest it to me. It's a wonderful feeling to be loved unconditionally by someone. When I received my Hawaiian name, Kaililani, in 1996, she decided to call me Kaili (kah-e-lee) for short. Her family called me that too. They are the one family besides my hula family who call me by my Hawaiian name.
Part of my zen practice is to realize that we are all going to die someday. We aren't going to live forever. If we truly realize that, death becomes an ally and helps us really appreciate each moment of the very precious lives we live. Being happy or sad isn't what matters. Everything is part of our journey and happens to teach us something.
"Someone should find a cure for death," my eight year old friend Shelby said very matter-of-factly as we baked cookies a few months ago. "I want to live forever!!!" she exclaimed.
I chuckled when I heard that. Good to hear that kind of youthful energy just beginning and bursting with life. And good to mark the passage of time with tears for the death of a beloved friend.
Malama pono (Take care of body, mind and heart),
June Kaililani Tanoue Dharma Holder, Kumu Hula
P.S. Here's a slide show of my Portland visit and another for my visit to the Great Vow Monastery and Portland's Heart of Wisdom Zen Center. For mobile units click here for Portland slide show and here for Monastery slide show.