Memorial Tributes to Toni

Charles LaBarre – I’m often terrified about getting up in front of people, so I figured I ‘d better do it early. Many years ago my beloved wife Doris introduced me to Toni and she also at the same time introduced me to Mary Oliver and her poetry. And then I later found out that she was one of Toni’s favorite poets. And one of the rites that I had was finding a Mary Oliver poem in The New Yorker and cutting it out and then sending it to Toni and then the last day of retreat she would read one of those poems. I’d say, “Gee, I sent that to Toni, how wonderful.” [laughter]. But the poems themselves often had quite an effect on me, and I was going through some papers in my office the other day and I found a copy of The New Yorker, quite old, open to a page with a Mary Oliver poem on it that I had never gotten around to sending to Toni. This morning I was thinking about this poem and the effect it had on me, and while I was sitting in our silence this morning I was having this image of Mary Oliver and Toni standing, holding hands and quietly hammering on my mind, and suggesting I get over it all. And this poem says some of the same things to me.

[Charles reads Mary Oliver’s poem “The Poet with His Face in His Hands.”

Thank you Toni, thank you.

[Charles speaks again later during the Memorial] – I know I’ve been up here before, and one thing I’ve noticed, is, nobody’s mentioned Kyle. [several audience members: “Yeah.”] I have to tell a little story. When I first met Doris here at the Center, our third meeting after we really got together—she came from Guelph and I came from Woodstock—and I got here, and she said, “By the way, we’re going to have tea with Toni and Kyle.” Now I had come out of the tradition of “the guru,” “the master.” Spent a year with him in India. He was the authority. He knew.

“Oh, ok, so go meet the guru of Springwater?” Go for it. But all kidding  aside, I didn’t want to say all this to Doris. I didn’t want to blow it right out of the water right there. So we went to their house, and I said to myself, “But what do I do? Am I supposed to bow, am I supposed to genuflect or say something meaningful?” All this stuff is surging around. So we went in, had introductions, greetings, and we sat down. Kyle was sitting to my left. After a few pleasantries, Doris and Toni went out into the kitchen to do a little preparation, and they’re happily chatting away and I’m sitting there churning inside, and well, now what, I’m thinking? Kyle reached over and put his hand on my knee. He says, “You know, it’s a good thing they’re speaking in German so we don’t have to pretend to understand what they’re talking about.” [laughter] There couldn’t’ have been a more perfect moment. I have to admit it still took me a while to get over that, because I was going to meet Toni and still had this thing, “Well, how do I behave with the Master?” I was a little lost.

The first retreat I came to was in July and I was wearing my office clothes at the time as I came here, and I had my first meeting with Toni, the first one-on-one. It was hot! Oh, boy, it was hot, but I’m going to meet The Master, so I put my tie and shirt on [laughter] and I was sitting out in the solarium, and the sweat’s building up, soaking my armpits—it  was dripping off my chin and soaking my tie. And I waited and said to myself, “What am I doing?” Something shifted then. After that meeting with Toni, I never did that again. But whenever I get into that space of thinking there’s an authority, something or someone I have to pay attention to, someone who really KNOWS, that I have to listen to and be subservient to, I think back to Kyle putting his hand on my knee. I don’t really have to understand what you’re talking about.  He was such a blessing, a wonderful partner for Toni. And I miss him.