Sangha News Zen Aluminati Death&Dying
Elizabeth Tuomi Memorial folder
Statement read by Liz's grandson Taro Tuomi Smithson
at her funeral at Green Gulch Farm, March 26, 2011
When we lose a loved one, we feel incomplete. It feels as if there is suddenly a hole inside, as you glance back at all of the experiences you shared-- with some regrets of what you didn't say or do, and the positive experiences too. People try different routes to fill the hole up-- some take up a vice, others try to distract themselves, while still others try to fulfill some dream or desire that their loved could not see completed. Yet regardless of the path a person chooses, there will always be those feelings of sorrow we feel for the rest of our days. This is life. My grandmother would have probably said that is why we must let go of our earthly desires and attachments on the path towards enlightenment. Darnit! I should have listened to her on that.
It is a wise idea to allow ourselves to sit for a time in our feelings of sadness and nostalgia, and at times-terrific laughs. With Elizabeth, I felt the whole gamete of emotions, which is symbolic of how influential she was to me. I believe we should always take the time to remember the essence of who our loved ones were. By retracing and reinforcing the lessons, experiences, and subtle characteristics of the unique form which was Liz, her life is now a positive force, her beliefs and actions now a legacy even as her physical form has changed.
I will try and share a few things that Elizabeth taught me, and a few memories, which illustrate her unique and specific character that helped many others and me so much during her time here.
As a child my grandmother was the one who took the time to read and tell stories. When I was very young, maybe three or four, I remember spending nights at her house, sleeping in her bed. I'd be waiting for her to finish her nightly New Yorker article, crossword puzzles, or News hour with Jim Lehrer. I would curl onto her leg under the covers and put my chilly feet on her legs, until she beckoned me up into the room again, to read or tell me stories. She conveyed them with precision and wit, so that many adventures of Orat and his grandmother came forth from her imagination into mine, and I felt like I had gone on an adventure myself, before drifting comfortably into slumber. Orat is of course my name spelled backwards.
She would cook corn tortillas with melted cheese and a glass of milk on the side, which to this day is the most comforting food I can think of.
Any day I wanted to, I could get off the school bus at her house, and after an hour or so exploring the tide pools or walking and crawling under the house, I would excitedly come inside to her care. Then of course came the tortillas.
The subtle but important everyday chores were a point of focus for Liz. She was very much a believer in doing the little things that most people procrastinate over. Doing the dishes promptly, cleaning up after yourself, things like that. While I lived with her these past few years and as I remember in my childhood, she always made a point to do the dishes, every day. This dedication became quite amazing to me, because even as she became weaker and it became hard for her even to look up with her neck problems, in adamant focus and with balanced energy, she did those dishes. I even tried to do them out of habit for a while, but was diplomatically instructed to leave them for her. Doing the work that needs to be done, even through adversity, is something special that she showed me through her fortuitous actions. Whenever I left out some breadcrumbs or dishes as a boy, she would lightly remind me to 'never leave a trace.' The first day that I lived on my own in Santa Cruz, I remember thinking about those words, and finally acting on them. I still to this day continue that important focus. It does matter, and it curiously clears my mind of any stressful focuses I may have.
Another point about doing the things most overlook is that she never ever complained or grumbled when she did them. This speaks volumes to how much young people these days have missed, and need to learn (at least in my opinion). Constant moaning over having to keep their room clean, or do laundry, it makes me frown to see. Liz never complained, but her silence spoke volumes about her character.
Liz was a Zen Buddhist. She may not have sat zazen as much recently, but to me, her ways were like those of an ancient monk. She distanced herself from attachments to her own desires in an overt way, opting towards sacrificing herself in some way for others anonymously. Liz was in my experiences not much of a schmoozer, trying to be a socialite, hoping to be seen as cool or anything like that. She did not have a mind for socializing with people in shallow gossip; she would rather talk about a book she read. She did not want recognition in a public domain, yet often took the role of an important steward, helping to keep the wheels of people's lives as well as local organizations moving by whatever loose ends she was obligated to tie. She was a consummate team player, even though she may not have seemed so to an untrained eye. When I needed help getting books for school because I didn't have enough money, she quietly asked the cost and wrote me a check, without any expectations or reminders to me of being indebted to her. She was the one who has kept me learning and growing intellectually. She cleaned up the Buddhist church in downtown Bolinas on Sundays (I think) for years, and she contributed to the Hearsay for as long as I can remember. In a time where a title and an ego is valued highly in this society, it is refreshing to see a person who was so vital to keeping mechanisms moving, yet in no way was searching for rewards or personal gain. Our little town of Bolinas has received many gifts from Liz over the years.
Many people nowadays talk about ideals and really living by them, but to this day I have not seen over a handful of people who really live what they believe in. Liz lived in her own ideal way, consequently having more integrity than nearly anyone I have ever known.
If you are defined by your actions, as I believe we all should be, then Liz was very much a great person in the way that she decided to live. She probably believed differently from my belief that actions define a person, but the fact that she lived that way again is a major sign of her integrity. We live in a time of dire need of it. Her lesson is not lost on me.
Liz did have a hard time being openly compassionate to people, including myself, at times. Instead she usually implied it through her actions. As we conversed one day about our lives, she mentioned that her parents didn't once tell her they loved her, which I believe was her way of telling me how hard it was for her to do it with her own loved ones. But as I lived with her and shared many experiences, I can honestly say she was one of the sweetest and most compassionate people I have ever met. Beneath her austerity and anonymity was a sweet-heart, and I am very proud of having been so close to her. She left me a note on the table a few months back, out of the blue telling me she loved me very much, and that she was happy to have been able to share her life with me. I wrote back to her, telling her I loved her very much and that I was so happy we got to live together. We became the closest pen pals in the world that day.
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