While I was at Tassajara, news came through of Jordan’s decline. He had been battling cancer for a while, and had given a number of dharma talks on the subject. Recently, he had been given the all-clear, as he discussed in his most recent talk. And then it came back with a vengeance – he died on Sunday morning.
Word was sent out that we could come and sit with the body, so I went over to Zen Center on Monday morning; there was a collection of Zen Center people, some long-time students of his, and family members.
Jordan was always fairly solidly built, but had been shrunk by his final illness, evidently. Sitting with him, I remembered other similar occasions, with Blanche, Lou and Jerome, laid out in their robes, all older when they died than Jordan had been. I remembered time spent with him over the years at Zen Center – not the many meetings we were both at, or the hours sitting in the zendo together, but the time it took us two days to get out of Tassajara because of the snow and fallen trees (Jess, who was staying at Tassajara last week, was part of that story); watching the 2010 World Cup Final in his apartment with Anna and Seguin, a very gentle and warm afternoon with good food; even a mundane trip together over to Berkeley to buy a new fridge for the small kitchen at City Center, stopping, perhaps typically, at his favourite wine merchants on the way back.
I remember the tone of his talks: he told stories of his school days when he was tanto at Tassajara; sometimes he could almost seem formulaic, but then he would add a poignant detail, a telling phrase. He was never afraid to be tender.
The first time I sat with a body was my grandmother; it was a long warm midsummer evening in England. Having spent the afternoon with her, and her three children, we were eating dinner outside with swallows circling overhead when the phone call came. After visiting, I walked back across the town where she and my parents lived; it was a Saturday night, noise drifted out from the pubs. Life continued, I observed, because it had to. On Monday I left Zen Center and rode down to the Embarcadero for our lunch-time sitting. It was warmer than usual, and we had more people on our cushions than ever before (including two who had attended the retreats at Tassajara). The promenade was crowded, even without the scooters. A small sailing dinghy beat its way up the Bay from under the bridge, seemingly battling the tide, but making headway until it was lost from sight.
I discovered I had more pictures of Jordan than I remembered. This is him as a preceptor at Daigan’s tokudo in 2011.
Somewhat less formally, here he is wielding a chainsaw to clear the road up from Tassajara as we tried to get him out for a meeting. We ended up turning back due to deep snow drifts.
This is how I would picture him most normally – taken at a Zen Center meeting at Greens.