The Friends We Lose

On the way to Jikoji last Sunday, with Tova and Rosalie, I heard that Jana had died.

Jana 2

It is natural that within any extended community, there will be loss. Just thinking this, names come to mind of residents who have died since I first went to Zen Center: Hal Papps, Idilio Ceniceros, Jerome Petersen, Lou Hartman, David Coady, Darlene Cohen, Steve Stücky, Blanche Hartman, Sioen Roux, Lee Lipp – and I am sure, many others who I am less familiar with.

Jana’s was probably the first voice I heard at Zen Center, when I called during my first visit to San Francisco in 1999; I remember being slightly surprised that the person on the other end of the line had a lowland Scottish accent. When I met her, the following year, she took great pleasure in ribbing me for being English; in the end our common trans-Atlantic roots gave us shared reference points and things to treasure (I was remembering this blog post, and then find that death is present in it as well), even if we had lead very different lives.

I knew some of the extraordinary stories Jana had lived, and I am sure there were countless more; her life had been colourful and challenging. She could be very spiky because of it, but was also dedicated to transforming her suffering, and I took the fact that she had discarded her old names and chosen the name she was using as a mark of that transformation.

Growing up, there was a truism about class in England that you could tell a true aristocrat by the kindness with they treated people who were ‘beneath’ them in the social structure; Jana was an aristocrat of the heart as she took no-one to be beneath her, and her practice was to keep extending love, care and compassion to those who often remain invisible and marginalised. I was in awe of her ability to do this, to be so tender and so tough, and it made her a perfect dharma heir of Blanche, who was also so noble in outlook. I aspire to be able to practise from the heart as diligently as Jana did.

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