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Saturday, 25 May 2013

Enso House

This is an excerpt from my March 27 meeting with Dr. Ann Cutcher and several volunteers at  Enso House, the hospice operated by the Tahoma Sogenji Zen Monastery on Whidbey Island, Washington. 

AC: One of the things that has been so interesting to me was demonstrated with the very first guest who was here, and I’ve never forgotten it. And he was a man who lived as a hermit, essentially, on a beach in a shack which he put together with materials that he’d found. And he was, at the end of his life, being taken care of by a circle of essentially strangers who had to walk in to his home in order to get there—there was no road. And he had no electricity and no plumbing. His electricity was a big extension cord, but he had no plumbing. And the one friend who was trying to coordinate his care at the end of his life was desperate, desperate . . . uh . . . The rains were coming; it was September. The friend was leaving town for a couple of weeks; he couldn’t keep this circle together. And he’d heard about Enso House just . . . I don’t know really quite how. And we weren’t ready to accept anybody. We didn’t have any insurance; we didn’t have . . . We weren’t ready. And it happened at the same time as the sesshin was happening at Tahoma, and the Roshi was here, and I . . . This friend came to me in a desperate state, and I went and met the man in his bed and came back and told the Roshi about it and said, “We need to do this.” And there was really no hesitation with the whole board even though everyone was exposed ‘cause there was no insurance. Anyway, this man was brought here, and he was mute. He didn’t speak. And I don’t know if he didn’t speak because he had an organic problem; I don’t know if he’d had a stroke necessarily—he was suffering from lung cancer. But he was completely quiet and he had absolutely alert and awake blue eyes. He could see what was happening. And he got here, and he closed his eyes, and he didn’t open them for a couple of days. And he didn’t say anything. And I would be in the room with him, feeling that he was furious that after having been brought out of his space and put in a . . . Holiday Inn [chuckles]. And it was . . . really distressing to me, ‘cause I felt this so strongly. And then Chisan, the Roshi’s translator, came over and sat with him for half an hour and came out of the room and said, “He’s so grateful. He’s just so appreciative.” And what it made me see is that this is all . . . this whole experience is projection essentially. That really not knowing what is happening is really the basis of everything that happens here. [gentle laugh]  And a projection of our own interior . . . uh . . . life, you know?  So that’s one thing I find really helpful for me personally, to be reminded of that, that I am creating my own . . . um . . . interpretation, and trying to make sure I see that all the time so that I can stay open to what’s really happening.

                That’s one thing. Another thing was this guy Rinsan was talking about, was a fairly young man, who was really adamantly opposed to his dying. It was just not gonna happen. And it was happening. And he was angry, and he was aggressive, and he was sure of himself. And sure of himself in that he was not . . . this was not going to happen to him. And he was too physically weak and on too many incredibly powerful analgesics to safely move around the house. But he was still determined to do that. And at one point, my concern . . . I was just concerned all the time that this man was gonna fall. And he stood up and . . . He was wheeled in a wheel chair across this room, and he suddenly stood up and was gonna walk into the dining room. And as he stood up, the wheel chair went out from behind him sort of, and I pushed it under him, and I said, “You can’t do that!” And he got really mad at me. And I pushed him into the dining room, and I said, “You just can’t do that. You’re going to fall. It’s too scary.” He said, “No! You are the one who needs to calm down [general laughter] and cool off.” [laugher continues] He said, “You need to cool off!” . . . [pause] . . . True. [more laughter]

RBM: What was he suffering from?

AC: He had . . . he had colon cancer, and he had an obstruction of his bowel. He was here for five weeks probably, and not able to eat without incredible pain that required doubling the amount of intravenous narcotic that he was getting continuously. And in spite of that, he was determined to eat. And that was another really difficult thing, to watch him roll himself into the kitchen [laughs] and open the refrigerator [general laughter] knowing that once he swallowed something, we would have to dial up . . . dial up his narcotic and deal with excruciating discomfort. And he was a rock-n-roll drummer . . . a rock-n-roll bassist who had played with a lot of people on the island over his life as a musician. And he really wanted to have a . . . He wanted to gather all the musicians he’d played with together. And they all showed up, some of them on motorcycles, and they brought a coolers of beer, and they set up a whole trap set and two mikes for singers, and, you know, mikes for the guitars and amplifiers, and we moved everything around, and there was like Led Zeppelin music, you know, coming from this dining room. And then he was too weak to play, himself. He couldn’t hold his instrument. But he had a chair pulled up, and he sat in the chair, and someone gave him his bass, and the room got totally quiet, and he plucked off this song, and sang, “Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” [laughter] And everybody just like melted. That was pretty amazing.”

Cypress Trees in the Garden: pp. 124-132.

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