My Eulogy for Matt

Matt Eulogy
Draft #1

I was in labor with Rosie and I was beginning to panic. First baby, we had been assured that it would take days and days, and we had been out running errands in our little Honda Accord. But no-- She was coming into the world fast and hard, and I was sitting in the front seat of the car, totally unable to face going inside or going to the hospital. Matt coaxed me inside, helped me sit down at our kitchen table. The curtains had prints of vegetables on them, the light was orange and warm. He put his hands on my head and gave me a blessing. I felt calmed and fortified-- his steadiness and readiness carried me calmly through the rest of that labor-- he walked the labyrinth of birth with me and kept me grounded in the moment. He had a warm soul, and at his best when he was healing and guiding me.

A year or so later Matt and I went to Obon. The priest, in katakana English, gave a sermon. He said, “One day, the buddha was approached and asked, Teacher, is there life after death?  And in answer, the enlightened one said: A warrior is riding through the woods, and is suddenly struck by an arrow. As he falls to the ground, what does he do? Does he ask as he bleeds, who made this arrow? What bird gave the feather? Who fired the bow? What kind of tree was this arrow carved? No. He first tries to remove the arrow. That is the state of this mortal life. We cannot know the answers to these questions in this brief moment in the woods. How can we think about the next world, when our main task must be ending the suffering-- our own and others’-- in this world. This story stayed with both of us like an arrow in the heart. Matt came to focus on alleviating suffering-- rather than on the potentials of an unknown world. That’s not to say that Matt didn’t believe in a spiritual reality.

One day we went to the 88 Shrines in Lawai. We walked the hill past all of the miniature Buddhist shrines-- recreating the shrines of Kyushu. Matt was showing three year old Rosie the tiny stones houses with the worn Buddha figures inside. Some were clear little statues, some were no more that worn nubs. In some the Buddha was reduced to no more than pebbles. Rosie said, “No Buddha!” But Matt answered that no-- The rocks are Buddha too. And the trees, and the flowers, and the air… and everything. He believed that enlightenment, like the potential for nuclear frission, was in every atom of the natural world.

He was a defender of Nature-- animals, plants and birds-- and the human stewards who nurture them. He was the most expansive, the most thrilled walking over granite mountains, hiking to grand vistas. I fell in love with him hiking around the reservoir in the Moraga California hills, finding snakes and wild pears. In Maui we saw paniolo graffiti carved into rocks and heard whalesong high up on a ridge, in Utah we marveled at prehistoric creatures that could sleep for eons and come, delicately, back to life, in unlikely smears of rainwater in the desert. On Chausuyama in Japan we watched the first light of the year, and paid our respects to the kitsune rains and the tanuki tricksters. In nature, he could quiet his inner noise and breathe freely.

Mormon stories of humble rough-handed men endowed with the ability to bless others, Buddhist sensibilities about ending the suffering of the world, Shinto belief in the self-ness of stones, trees, places, and trees…. In Hawaii we saw Ho’ailona. We were invited to the navigational heiau Maka o Hule in Kohala to support the crew of the Hokule’a as they set out to sail by the stars to Japan. We were new, still strangers in a strange land. We stood in an enormous circle with many other guests, and a kahu offered a pule as the navigators made their way up the hill to the heiau. As they walked, an enormous double rainbow appeared over us. Matt and I were gobsmacked, but the Hawaiians around us were sanguine. Of course there was a giant rainbow during the pule they shrugged, there usually is at things like this.

In Hawaii, Matt was shaped by the immediacy of the spiritual world. A shark came to him as a bride in his dream, and after that sharks always accompanied him when he dove. Great winds blew down water towers over and over until a pig was buried under ti leaves on the site. He asked permission before going holoholo. On the big island he went right up to the lava and said the sense of enormity was the face of God. Or Goddess. He lost his breath in the contemplation of the destruction and creation and beauty and terror-- he wished he’d known what to chant or pray or sing.

He respected the Old Gods-- poured out a splash of cider onto the ground on the Welsh mountain top and wine onto Monte Marte. He ventured with caution into the standing stones, and approached the twisted gold neolithic treasures of Sutton Hoo-- that spooky Mabignogian Cauldron--with respect.

He spoke to the dead, like his beloved great-uncle Ken, who lived so vividly in Matt’s mind that the girls would would ask for stories about uncle Ken just to make Daddy cry. He researched Hikohichi Nagasawa’s impossible adventures-- shipwrecks and the San Francisco earthquake. He traced his ancestors across all the oceans-- maritime refugees, plantation workers, and appalachian folk singers like Mrs. Bostic whose voice recordings we found on ancient wax cylinders. He mined their stories relentlessly, even testing his DNA in an effort to understand who he was and where he came from.

I don’t know what there is after this life-- Matt’s reality was flesh and bone. He sweat and fought and learned. He labored mightily in the grasses and pastures, he said yes to the here-and-now experiences of travel and good food. He feasted on art-- the abstract and the home-hewn. He delighted in the grand humanity of history and the modern stupidity of low-comedy. He fought to alleviate the sufferings of others. Nothing could incite his ire like a misuse of public hew and cry. The homeless on our island, the hungry children, the marginalized. He respected the authority of old men on horses-- of artisans with battered hands.

I hope that with shedding his flesh and bone reality, he can find the true heart of the labrynth-- the raw power of the ocean, the lava-- the calm guidance of his blessings, the freedom and power of the open vista. And of course he lives on in us, as we revisit his paths and ways, and remember him.  


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