Memorial Tributes to Toni

Stew Glick – A rather sweet memory of Toni has come up, and this being an opportunity to share such memories, I will try and relate this little story. I’ll set the scene, the setting going back to the Zen Center probably around 1980 or so. I see a number of familiar faces here who were at the Zen Center back then. At that time I was on staff and there were two of them: Roshi Kapleau had his staff, Toni had her staff, and they split the calendar year for doing retreats, called sesshin in Zen. One of the traditions at the Zen Center was that around the Xmas/New Year’s holiday time, there would be an evening of entertainment in the Buddha Hall, some live music but also little skits–which tended to be satirical. The work at the Zen Center was very intense, and it’s not inaccurate to say there was some pride in that, as it was called “the boot camp of Zen.” This evening of entertainment was a time when a lot of stuff was released that sort of poked fun at some of this intensity, and all that went with it. I seem to remember helping with the recording of the evening’s event from a room somewhere next to the hall. Toni had already started to make a lot of changes at the Zen Center, and there was a sense of a kind of lightening up of some of that severity. As a little backdrop, one of the things in sesshin was that you were admonished to stay up late into the night. There was this large wooden block outside the Zendo or sitting hall, called a han and it would be hammered very intensely at 9:30 at night along with a sort of “pep talk” by the teacher, a few words that would get the juices flowing for some of us who would then stay up well into the night. So anyway, at this event Toni came out and she was introduced by someone who said something like, “Well, with all these changes happening now, here is the new way of ending an evening sitting.” And I don’t know how many of you know that Toni was a wonderful singer, although this was the only time that I actually heard her sing. She used to sing with a church choral group, I believe. [Paul Hetland: “chamber music”]. Okay, it was maybe chamber music. So someone said, “This is the new way of ending the evening sittings.” And Toni came out and sang the most beautiful Brahms lullaby.

There are many ways of expressing what’s in the heart.

Mary Hetland – I’m going to sit because I don’t dare to get up or I won’t get through the poem [although Mary did end up standing]. It was hard to see Toni the last few weeks in hospice. The first few times I wen to see her she seemed to be suffering a lot; she had a fever for a while, and I felt so helpless. I just wanted to make it better and cool her down and take away the pain. But when I went a few days before she died, there was a palpable shift in the room–more of a sense of peace and letting go.

This is a Mary Oliver poem that I found and it reflects those last few days. It’s called “Sleeping in the Forest.” [Mary reads the poem, beginning with the lines “I thought the earth remembered me, She took me back so tenderly, . . ]