I am celebrating the arrival of Spring.
This year, my first year of retirement, walking has been a new occupation and a preoccupation. Retirement began in the summer and as I got into walking, watching my daily step count go up, I began to wonder, “How will I do in the Winter?”
Admittedly, it was a warm winter; but I have been fine. The right tools have helped: hooded sweatshirts, snow sneakers from LL Bean and wooly socks, LL Bean’s warmest long underwear, Christmas presents from Dee. It was a mild winter, reaching single digits only twice. I am no longer self-conscious about layering. I mocked myself for enjoying global warming, but I have never appreciated the seasons so much. Yes, St. Maarten’s year-round summer has its attractions, but walking through the cycle of seasons is fascinating. The view of the Clove Lake ponds in winter, -- I love to walk near water, -- is unobstructed by the summer bushes.
With only ten days of Winter left, I thought, “I am going to make it.” I am at a time in my life when I no longer take 10 days for granted. The fragility of life is so present. But was feeling confident that whatever happened in those 10 days, I will have walked through Winter. What else might knock me down, I don’t know; but this year I have survived Winter.
Marking my calendar for the Spring Equinox, -- I wanted to be out walking at 5:34 PM on March 20, -- I noticed that it fell on Roshi Jishu’s memorial day. I hadn’t realized that before. For the first 24 anniversaries of her passing, I hadn’t been paying so much attention to the seasons. Walking through retirement has taken my vocation outdoors.
I am intrigued by this conjunction of Jishu’s passing and the change of seasons. Jishu was interested in the seasons. At the end of her life, she was working on a Peacemaker Liturgical Calendar. Each of the seasons was to be associated with one of the Four Great Commitments adopted in 1893 by the World Parliament of Religions. The Zen Peacemakers embraced these commitments.
I commit myself to a culture of nonviolence and reverence for life.
I commit myself to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order.
I commit myself to a culture of inclusiveness and a life based on truthfulness.
I commit myself to a culture of equal rights for all people regardless of religion, race, gender, ability, and economic status.
Originating as points of agreement among leaders of different faiths made them extremely important to Bernie and Jishu who shared the belief that healing the conflicts between peoples of different religious faiths was fundamental to peacemaking globally.
I have never been able to remember which Commitment Jishu planned to associate with which season. It was not a well-developed idea at the time of her passing. I am not sure how much it really mattered to Jishu which Commitment we worked with in which season. What was important was that there be a cycle to the liturgical year and that we pay regular attention to our practice in relation to the Commitments.
Spring seems so much a season of rejoicing. It feels like a moment of basking in our gifts, of rejoicing in life. Spring is feeling very much like the season of commitment “to a culture of nonviolence and reverence for life.”
As I say this, a memory from a few days ago comes back to me. Dee and I were walking on the boardwalk, a warm afternoon and we can feel the approaching change of seasons. Dee remembers the Lanternflies. Somehow, I had forgotten them. They were all over the boardwalk last summer. They seem to love to bask in the sun. Last summer’s news was filled with warnings about Lanternflies, the danger which they posed to native plants. I was angry at the lanternflies. People everywhere were stomping on the Lanternflies. Dee couldn’t do it, but I did.
I felt that we were in a war with the Lanternflies. It was us or them. Is there another way? What a koan, walking into Spring, remembering this year to practice with a reverence for life, walking into Spring, walking toward Lanternflies.
Entering Spring, we are remembering Jishu and celebrating her life. Walking into Spring, will we be walking into a veritable sea of Lanternflies?
What will I do? Will I leave them in peace, hoping that they too will then respond peacefully by not destroying all the native plant life on Staten Island?
Native to China and Viet Nam, the Lanternflies have now spread to Japan, Korea, and the United States. Is it irony that the Lanternflies seem to be following the path westward taken by Zen?
Now in this moment when New York City and so many communities are seeing new waves of immigrants, have the Lanternflies arrived as a living parable? How similar the warnings about the Lanternflies and the new immigrants. Both, some argue, threaten the native culture.
What do we do? What do I do? Don’t know. But at this moment, I am experiencing a strange inclination to bow to the Lanternflies, “Thank you for the teaching.”