Jeanie Chilcote. Source of Serenity. Sister True Natural Peace. Devoted Dharma student of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh. Received precepts from Jack Lawlor. Ordained into the Order by Eileen Kiera on behalf of Thich Nhat Hanh. Enrolled tribal member. Daughter, wife, mother, friend. Thursday she was driving around running errands. Friday morning said she was going to drive back and forth to the camp-out retreat the next week. Friday evening she took to bed. Saturday she went into a coma. Sunday, July 14, Jeanie entered the great mystery peacefully at home surrounded by her family. It had been a one and one half years since cancer was diagnosed.
A pilgrimage to Indochina with our friend Judy had been tiring. She thought with age 55 approaching that she was just getting old and couldn't handle the rigors of third world travel. She returned a few weeks early. Rest did not restore. The doctor diagnosed inflammatory breast cancer.
Thay walks into the room for a Dharma talk. She sees him and begins to cry. Every time. Every talk. Every retreat.The bond to the teacher with whom she never shared one sentence of direct conversation was deep. On pilgrimage her main goal was to visit Thay's root temple. During the visit, a monk came out and invited her in for tea. Thay's picture was openly displayed in the room. The monk's English was sparse. Jeanie spoke no Vietnamese. Word communication was difficult. It was not needed. She always wondered why of all the tourists walking around he had singled her out and asked her in for tea. At the September retreat in Plum Village, Thay answered the question. The monks can tell practitioners by the way they walk. Jeanie was a practitioner.
Apparently our local medical community had never seen a practitioner. They were amazed at her equanimity. She meditated patiently in the waiting room with never a cross word for chronically late doctors. Always a kind word for all the nurses and "techs." Infinite patience while she meditated through hours of Taxol and related nasties being dripped into her system. She absorbed all news, bad and good (it was almost always bad) from the doctor with open attention. One day her doctor said, "I've never had a patient like you. You are always so calm and present. It must be your religion. I've never had a Buddhist patient before." And Jeanie validated that yes, it was her practice that gave her strength.
Maybe her name should have been Sister All Heart. She loved everyone and everything. Deeply. She constantly fed the birds and animals that visited her yard. Only a floodplain pasture and grove of trees separated her house from the Clark Fork River. There are zoos with fewer animals. Every bird that survived an accidental crash into a window was taken to the vet. Friends and family flowed through her house like water down the Clark Fork. "Jeanie, you are ill. You should rest more. Let the machine take calls. Put a 'do not disturb' sign on your door and nap." Fat chance. Sometimes her mother would take charge and stand guard. Otherwise it was always spring flood at Jeanie's.
Until cancer she was always fascinated by the "after death" question. She would pester her friend Rowan endlessly. At first she thought he was holding out on her. When she realized he didn't know the answer to the question either, she was still angry with him because the question didn't interest him. But after the diagnosis she said, "You know, now it isn't important to me either. All that is important is this moment."
Jeanie didn't find the pond until 1992. Her Dharma-webbed feet had gotten pretty desiccated wandering in the desert. But somebody gave her an Eightfold Path class announcement. She got excited. Immediately called up. Enrolled self, daughter Laurie, and friend Joanne. She dived in. She never stopped swimming. In rapid sequence she joined Open Way Sangha, took precepts from Jack at an Open Way retreat, and was in the first "proxy" ordination group in the USA being ordained into the Order by Eileen on Thay's behalf. She served the Open Way Board for the last several years as Secretary, and this year as "Elder Sister."
Jeanie gave freely of her love, skills. and insights. She was recruited to work with Alaya, a "Dharma therapy" outreach effort. She was co-creator of the Alaya programs for personal and spiritual growth. She taught meditation classes and helped develop and lead various other groups and classes; including groups called "Eightstepping" in which her meditative tradition was applied in a structured approach to addiction recovery. She knew about recovery . It was one of her practices. She continued this service until her illness precluded involvement earlier this year. Her service legacy lives as others continue to teach and use approaches and materials she helped to develop. Alaya tapes of Jeanie's work may someday continue her legacy as part of a book.
Thay once told Eileen, "Give everything you have and ask for nothing in return." Jeanie was master of this practice. Jeanie always gave (to a fault). She never asked (to a fault). Even in death she gave. For the last several months she prepared herself for the passage by working every Sunday morning with our gifted friend Marga. And by her years of faithful practice. "You know," she would say frequently, "I couldn't do this without this practice." She learned to live her life moment-by-moment. She lived life loving and giving as naturally as breathing. And so she returned naturally to the Source of all lovingness with grace, peace, and ease.
Lilah, her mother, misses her. So do her children, Laurie and Craig, and grandchildren, Josh and Kevin. And all her friends and Dharma family, we miss her too. It's lucky that families are like worms with many hearts. We wi ll survive this amputation. But absence of the prototypical working model of the Giant Economy Size Open and Devoted Heart... well, that's not easy to accommodate. We'll all have to help. Laurie will move in and continue to tend her flowers and feed the birds. As for the people, well, if we look deeply , we will see her in each other's faces, the light of dawn, morning dew, the bird's song. Joy and sadness will flow together. Our Sister has died. Long live our Sister.
This article was contributed by members of the Opell Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana, with special assistance from Rowan Conrad, True Dharma Strength.