By Therese Fitzgerald
1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old. One time when Arnie and I visited Jim in the hospital, I asked Jim if there was anything he’d like us to read from the Plum Village Chanting Book. He responded, “Sure, I’ll read “The Five Remembrances.'” After reading the first remembrance, he paused and, with a big grin, said, “That sure sounds good to me.”
2. I am of the nature to have ill-health. There is no way to escape having ill-health. The remembrance of ill-health is one that Jim had to be very aware of since he was diagnosed with cancer in 1991. From time to time he would say, “This is no way to live, having injections and treatments all the time.” We can empathize with him. He raged against it, but he also reached that strong place of acceptance, even to some humor and detachment. We learned much from him.
3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death. Jim’s awareness of death fueled his urgency to live fully and completely in every moment. At a September retreat with Thay, Jim looked at me and said, in no uncertain terms, “Therese, please give me something to do. I don’t need to be here for myself. Let me do something to help others.”
4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. We appreciate so much how strong Artie is in her love for Jim to bear with this loss. There is a nugget of inconsolable grief, but there is also the joy of remembering what Jim taught us, and allowing him to continue in us.
5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand. The last time we visited Jim in the hospital, he was completely lucid, although in much pain. At that time, the almond blossoms were in full bloom. I bent down to Jim’s ear and said to him, “Jim, the Almond Blossom Sangha is blooming beautifully now.” He had so much energy, joy, and love to share with others that we all joined with him and asked for his help whenever we could. He created places of refuge for people to come, sit themselves down, and try to make peace with all the stuff kicking around inside. He set out on a course of meditation to center himself, to ready himself to meet death with as much ease as he could, with the help of all his wonderful family and friends—friends in the Hospice Movement, his veteran buddies, his friends in the Methodist Church, the Almond Blossom and Order of Interbeing Sanghas, the Jewish Synagogue, and many other places of prayer and contemplation that he made his home.
Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, assisted Arnie Kotler in celebrating Jim’s Memorial Ceremony, held on May 26 at the Lotus Garden in Modesto, one of Jim’s favorite spots.