Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Our Lost Children

Ministry in Meeting for Worship on Sunday brought me to the memory of the Sandy Hook massacre and time I spent in the Zen Community of Oregon, almost 15 years ago. Here is my reconstructed ministry-not-shared with those gathered Friends, and you.
In 2001, I spent time at the Zen Community of Oregon, practicing and living into the vision of community and discipline that was thriving there. I visited for more than a week in March and most of the month of August, 2001. I participated pretty fully in the life of the monks. I practiced three times daily, sitting and walking meditation. I participated in communal 3-bowl meals, with offerings to Buddha, chanting, and silence. I worked in the gardens, the yard, and most importantly, tended to the Jizo garden.

Jizo is a Boddhisatva. My understanding of a Boddhisatva is someone who, through dedicated practice and the intense love and presence that comes from this practice, commits themselves to being present for the betterment of all beings. Jizo travels with all who are suffering, and particularly stands with, walks with women who have lost children, and children and travelers.

While I was visiting and practicing with this community on the side of Larch Mountain outside of Portland, we cleaned and prepared the garden for women to come and honor their lost children. The Jizo statues were covered in leaves. The walking paths needed a raking. My friend who was living there let me know that the women would come and place red cloaks on the statues, leaving notes for their children, if they liked.

I didn't see the women come, but on the day they came, I felt a quiet and sadness settle into the land. I remember watching a spider who was waiting outside of the zendo and had woven a brilliant web in the early morning light. I wanted to wait and watch the women, to understand what they had lost, what they gained from their visit to Jizo. I had no context with which to understand their suffering, their comfort in Jizo.

12 years later, with the loss of a child to miscarriage, I gained some context for this experience. Now a year out from that loss, pregnant with a child who by all accounts is staying, I am reminded of the 2 year anniversary of the death of 27 children, women, and men, at Sandy Hook Elementary. I wrote, at the time, about naming evil and our complicity with evil. I did not connect to Jizo because I had not experienced loss like that yet. I did not connect to this memory because I had not come to name the deaths of children as loss I shared.

I also have come to see other losses in this light. The intense and continued loss of black life to the impunity and rage of the white police state hits me differently today, remembering my loss, Sandy Hook, and Jizo. Trayvon Martin was a child. Tamir Rice was a child. Eric Garner had been a child, was a parent. Michael Brown was a child. There are many others.

What would a garden for these deaths look like? Can we honor our personal losses in a context of honoring these deaths, these wrongdoings?

Maybe they are too different. Losing a child to a disease, miscarriage--too soon, too soon-- is real and painful, but with no recourse, no way to fix it. Losing a child to gun violence, untreated mental illness visited upon the vulnerable, and systems of racism and impunity around black peoples lives-- too soon, too soon-- point in the direction of a need to fix something. A need for justice.

But there is no way to fix the death. It happened. We are left with their absence, and suffering.

I have no doubt that Jizo is walking with all of these children. Where there is suffering, we need to not be alone. I buried the baby I lost on the land, last October. I have not been able to go back and visit that spot, out by one of the big old trees in the woods. But I'm thinking about getting some Jizo statues, creating a space where we can visit with those we've lost, for whatever reason. The land can hold these losses, and there are many-- alive and beyond-- who can help walk with us in this grief.  Let us walk in this grief, together, so we can better act to build justice and end impunity in our world.

7 pm, ET, December 16: I posted this in the morning, and as I was driving to an appointment with the midwifery practice I am working with, I heard about the death of over 100 children in Pakistan at a school. I find this devastating, I don't quite have words. But I want to acknowledge in this post that this happened, and connects with what I am writing.

Right now I am thinking: is there a garden big enough to hold the grief of our lost children? Is the whole world to be our mourning place? I don't know. I don't know. Maybe.


  1. Thank you, Victoria, for what you have written. Just today we had a Jizo Ceremony at the place we now live, Great Vow Zen Monastery. I made a remembrance token for a grandson who was stillborn, and another for the children killed at the school in Peshwar, Pakistan. Anger and retaliation, back and forth, so sad. My Jizo Bodhisattva guide them all to peace. Jan Chozen Bays

  2. We have also miscarried and lost a wanted child. Wow.
    Id love to speak with you about this concept of Jizo, Victoria.
    Did you get a statue, or a few,
    and create a place on the land?

    Deep thoughts.