Memorial Tributes to Toni

Arida Emrys – I don’t really have any funny stories to say, but I felt it important to say something today to honor Toni and her importance in my life. I listened to the talk that was played earlier, and I really realized how lucky I was to have known her. So many profoundly wonderful things have come from being with and knowing Toni.

The last time I was here for a retreat at Springwater was about five years ago. This was, I think, one of the last times that Toni came to the Center to do retreats. She was in much pain and discomfort, everything was very difficult for her. She could no longer walk and had to be moved around in a wheelchair. But still she gave talks and held group meetings. One afternoon, we were in a large group meeting, and she gave a little bit of a talk to open it as she often did. In it she said, “People have asked me how I deal with these diminishing abilities, the pain and the increasing medications.” She had this beatific look on her face, and said, “This life is enough for everyone.”

That struck me deeply and has stayed with me–the preciousness of this life, this moment no matter what–most especially when I feel life is hard.

Jay Thompson – Many years ago I was in a sesshin in Rochester with Toni, and I was in the kitchen, and she was making salads–we worked together closely during the work period. And then, after sesshin, I gave her a big hug: there was always a lot of that afterwords! I found out later that that hug had broken three of her ribs, but she never once made me feel blamed or criticized for that.

Toni was clearly on the teacher track back then, even though this was before she had started sitting in and observing dokusan alongside Roshi Kapleau. In Buddhism, to injure the body of a teacher or a buddha is just this heinous crime–so I felt terrible about this for months. She never once said anything, however, such as, “This does really hurt”–but I know it was quite painful for her.
In the years after, I’d see her perhaps every three, four, or five years. We went to visit Kyle in the hospital, and we saw her there. She’d always be overjoyed to see us, with her radiant smile–but as I’d approach she would back off a little, hold up her hands, and say, “No hugs, please!”