Being ordinary

Dosho reminded us that yesterday was Katagiri-roshi’s Memorial Day, and in some discussion on our online meeting place, he mentioned about how he was “most ordinary.”  Reading that last night brought back memories of stories my mom told about seeing another side of him, and of a picture I have from long ago.

My mom used to have a bed and breakfast in Rochester.  I talked her once into donating a weekend at her Canterbury Inn to the Minnesota Zen Center silent auction.  I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, whether someone gave it to Roshi, or if someone else used it and then brought him there when a group of people were headed down to Hokyoji.  But it came about that he went there several times, sometimes with a group of priests, and sometimes with Tomoe.

I think he found it a respite from being “Katagiri-roshi, “and just being able to be “Hojo-san. “ My mother and her partner were both two expansive, wild women who liked hosting and taking care of others.  They had their apartment on the third floor, and the rooms were on the second floor.  They’d serve breakfast to their guests, along with an evening hour for tea and sherry.  If they became friends with you, they’d have you up for dinner at their place.  And they had Katagiri and Tomoe up several times.  They’d make sure to have a good bottle of whiskey for him, and cooked meals they knew he liked.  I imagine that being a teacher can be a lonely role sometimes, all the more so when you’re Japanese and surrounded by American students, who have a picture in their minds about how you should act.  At the inn with my mom and her partner he didn’t have to meet any expectations.

My mom is also a hugger, and so she’d always greet them with a hug for each of them.  She told the story of his coming one time with some priests, and when she greeted him at the door she could tell that she shouldn’t give him a hug that night.  Later in the evening, after everyone had gone to their rooms and was in there to stay, she heard a knock on the door, and there was Katagiri.  He held his arms open and gave both her and her partner a hug, saying, “I couldn’t do that in front of my students.  But I still wanted to give one to you both.”

I thought of those stories as I drifted off to sleep, and of wondered at how he must have chafed sometimes as he tried to teach us to be ordinary, and was just himself in spite of our wishes for him to be magic.  That he was able to do so was perhaps his real magic.  When I woke up this morning I went into my basement and dug through some boxes to find this picture.  The quality isn’t that good, but it’s a photo of him leaning back after having emptied the bowls of food you see there in front of him, wearing my mom’s wild red reading glasses. Image