Memorial Tributes to Toni

Richard Witteman – I remember when I first met Toni. It was while attending a seven-day sesshin at the Rochester Zen Center, during dokusan meetings with Roshi Kapleau. She was training to be a teacher, sitting in an alcove of the dokusan room, listening and being with whatever was taking place. It was wonderful to have her there. As I think back, it’s amazing, there is just her presence of open listening, kindness… no words really touch it. All through the years, when I think about the many experiences of our long friendship, this is what is strongest: Toni’s presence, her listening, being with what’s here in such an open way.

When Sophia and I were last with Toni, she shared some lovely words, which I wrote down afterwards. This is my recollection of her words:

Our time together was mostly silent, with moments arising when we would talk. After being quiet, she said, “You know, we want to stick around, don’t we? To me, it’s to be with friends, to feel the love of being with them. I don’t want to lose that, to leave them.”

There was silence, and then she turned and said, “Are you afraid of dying? Back a while ago, when I wasn’t feeling well, I thought since I am 85, this might be it, this might be death. And I felt afraid. But then, the thought passed and the fear passed also.”

We were quiet, and then she said, “Feeling well is good, but what’s really important is the pool of love that’s underneath. How well we feel doesn’t matter all that much, it’s really only on the surface.”

There was silence again, and I said, “Thank you Toni for everything, for sharing this love.” She replied, “We can’t stop it, can we? It’s such a big pool that it seeps through, even when we fight it. This pool of love holds everyone, every person, no one high or low, no one in or out.”

Thank you, Toni.

Erika Erig-Leiser I feel this “coming into presence” when I get here. There is something about this place that has so much to do with Toni and with you–all her friends. Being here, I can relax into the moment.

A bit more than a week ago I dreamed that I was driving to Toni’s funeral with the rest of my family. The car I drove was squeezed withing two walls, and I knew I would never make it to that funeral. There was a gate I could go through between the walls, but I didn’t have the key to open it. Looking back I saw Toni in another car, it was a cabriolet, smiling with a huge key in her hand. [laughter] This is a bit like my relationship with Toni. She has the key. When I was a child she came to visit us with her family every other year. This was like a fresh breeze going through our house. We all adored her. When I was a young woman, I felt miserable and she was sitting on our sofa like a smiling rock. There was something about her that made me follow her path. I went to the Zen Center, and she gave me that key. I went there because I knew she had it. She was my teacher for many years. Toni was like a signpost through all my life saying, “This way to freedom.” I am quite a bit older now than she was when I started to work with her, and still this signpost is within me. Whatever I’ve done since, I have found no other truth than the one she led me to understand and experience: “There’s nothing but ‘right now.'” And in this very moment there is love, understanding, everything. I am deeply grateful.

(Erika offered this German translation of her contribution to the memorial) –
Wenn ich hier bin, faellt es mir leichter, im Moment zu leben. Das hat mit diesem Ort zu tun, der so sehr von Toni und Euch, Ihren treuen Freunden gepraegt ist. Hier kann ich mich entspannen in das, was gerade ist. Vor etwas mehr al seiner Woche hatte ich einen Traum. Ich fuhr im Auto mit meiner Familie zu Toni’s Beerdigung. In einer engen Gasse blieben wir stecken, und ich befuerchtete, dass wir die Beerdigung verpassen wuerden. Da sah ich eine Tuer, die aus dem Engpass herausgefuehrt haette, doch ich hatte keinen Schleussel dafuer. Als ich zurueckschaute, sah ich in einem Auto mit offenem Dach hinter uns Toni sitzen. Sie laechelte und hatte einen grossen Schluessel in der Hand. So ist meine Beziehung zu Toni. Sie hat den Schluessel. Als ich ein Kind war, kam sie uns jedes zweite Jahr besuchen mit ihrer Familie. Das war immer wie eine frische Brise, die durch unser Haus wehte. Wir liebten sie ueber alles. Als junge Frau ging es mir einmal sehr schlecht, und Toni sass auf unserem Sofa, laechelnd und wie ein Fels in der Brandung. Da was etwas an ihr, das mich dazu brachte, ihren Weg zu gehen. Ich ging ans Zen Center und wurde ihre Schuelerin, and sie gab mir den Schluessel, nach dem ich gesucht hatte. Toni war wie ein Wegweiser fuer mich, auf dem steht: “hier gehts zur Freiheit”. Ich bin heute alter als sie war, als ich mit ihr zu arbeiten begann, aber der Wegweiser ist imm noch in mir. Ich habe viel erlebt und gelernt inzwischen, aber nur diese eine Wahrheit gefunden, zu der sie mich gefuehrt hat: zu verstehen und zu erleben, dass es nichts anderes gibt als das, was genau jetzt ist, and dass in diesem Moment alles enthalten ist: Liebe Verstehen, Mitgefuehl and das Staunen ueber die unendliche Vielfalt der Schoepfund. Ich bin ihr zutiefst dankbar.